Brief Overview of Asthma
Asthma is a lung disease, in which the obstruction of the flow of air in the lungs produces a characteristic wheezing sound and cough, making it difficult to breathe. Its exact causes are not well understood by science, but it is believed to be a combination of hereditary and environmental factors.
Asthma comes in a few types, such as adult-onset, occupational, or seasonal asthma, each with a set of identified triggers that bring about the symptoms. They range from pollen, dust, and pet dander to weather, infections, stress, and medications. Interestingly, fluctuating female hormones, namely estrogen and progesterone, are believed to be partially behind high asthma prevalence among women.
Possible Effects of Uncontrolled Asthma on Pregnancy
Effects of Asthma on Fertility
Studies have shown that asthmatic women experience more conception complications, such as:
- Taking a longer time to conceive
- Having lower chances of conceiving, especially at the age 35 and older
These effects of asthma on conception are most likely due to the state of constant respiratory inflammation typical to asthma that can affect other body systems, such as the uterus, leading to fertility abnormalities.
Effects of Asthma on the Mother and Baby
Asthma can also become worse and more challenging during pregnancy. The most common asthmatic complications arise from an insufficient oxygen supply to the growing baby. This might lead to poor growth and low birth-weight and has been associated with retardation and certain intellectual disabilities later on in child's life.
Risks and Complications
Uncontrolled asthma can increase the frequency of attacks during pregnancy and lead to serious complications, such as preeclampsia, toxemia, stillbirth, and premature birth.
Since age is a risk factor for pregnancy complications with asthma, asthmatic women are advised against delaying their conception. Therefore, it is very important to make a thorough asthma management plan that can be implemented prior to conceiving and continued during pregnancy.
Control Asthma before Pregnancy
Generally, the more uncontrolled your asthma is, the higher your risk of infertility. So, the goal during the preconception period is to get your asthma under control and reduce the attacks. Consider the following recommendations:
The fastest and most effective way to reduce the risk of asthma attacks is to avoid the allergens that cause them. Depending on the type of allergens, you might limit your exposure to them in a number of ways by closing your windows and doors during allergy seasons, using appliance with HEPA filters to keep the air indoors allergen-free, and vacuuming your house frequently.
Vitamins and Supplements
Hormone-regulating supplements, like Macafem, might help you boost your fertility by stabilizing the levels of your hormones and increasing libido.
Prenatal vitamins, like folic acid or zinc, are standard practice during preparations for pregnancy. Learn more about prenatal vitamins.
Fish oil supplements have been shown to lower incidence and severity of asthma symptoms.
In many cases, taking medications for asthma is not only necessary, but it is the safest way to control the attacks and prevent complications.
Asthma drugs come in two types: rescue medications for quick relief and controllers, which are taken regularly as a prophylactic prevention. Review your medications with your allergist or immunologist to ensure they can be continued throughout pregnancy, if needed.
Immunotherapy, commonly called allergy shots, can effectively improve asthma, but has to be done prior to conceiving. Taking them during pregnancy can be potentially dangerous due to a possible anaphylaxis.
Asthma in Pregnancy - Medication Guidelines
Most asthma medications are safe during pregnancy and have not been associated with serious side effects. However, they have to be carefully customized to your condition. The most common medications come as inhalers, pills, or can be used in a nebulizer, such as:
- Albuterol, also called salbutamol (brand name Ventolin)
- Montelukast (brand name Singulair)
- Budesonide (brand name Pulmicort)
- Theophylline and etophylline (brand name Deriphyllin)
- Corticosteroids (QVar)
While a good pre-pregnancy meal plan should include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and good protein sources, some food products also offer additional benefits to asthmatics preparing for conception. Consider the following:
Vitamin C-rich foods, such as camu camu, lemon, or papaya, are known to lessen the symptoms of asthma.
Phytoestrogenic foods, such as flax seeds or American ginseng, can improve hormonal imbalance and improve lung function in women with asthma.
Probiotics, like yogurt or sauerkraut, have been found to reduce asthma and allergies.
Antioxidant foods, like blueberries or green tea, can fight off lung inflammation and improve asthma. They will also improve the quality of your eggs.
An asthma attack can be triggered when the airway passages narrow from exercise, a condition called exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB). Women preparing for pregnancy should not avoid exercising and deprive themselves of its benefits on fertility and overall health, but they should focus on low-impact exercises that do not tend to trigger the symptoms, such as swimming, walking, or biking.
Good Habits and Alternative Therapies
Quit smoking as it might be harmful to the fetus once you conceive and can also trigger asthma attacks.
Home remedies, such as fresh ginger-pomegranate-honey juice or eucalyptus essential oil inhalations, can reduce lung inflammation and open up the airways.
Acupuncture has also been found effective in reducing asthma and allergy symptoms.
Tips for Conceiving with Asthma
By now, your asthma should be well managed and you should have a good action plan ready in case of a sudden exacerbation of symptoms. While trying to conceive, you might want to complement your pre-conception plan with the following:
Stress-reduction practices, such as meditation, aromatherapy, or breathing exercises, might help you prevent stress-induced asthma attacks and increase your chances of getting pregnant.
Ovulation-enhancing foods, like eggs; beans and lentils; and nuts and seeds; oily fish can improve your egg health and improve your fertility.
Low-level exercises, like yoga, can not only reduce tension and anxiety, but also have been found to relieve asthma symptoms by improving respiratory capacity and strengthening the immune system.
Manage Asthma during Pregnancy
The progression of asthma during pregnancy varies from woman to woman. It is estimated that one-third of women suffers from worsening of the symptoms (mostly between the 24th and 36th week due to pregnancy-induced hormonal shifts), one-third experiences improvement, and the remaining one-third observes no difference in severity or frequency of the symptoms.
Continue with your pre-pregnancy action plan while putting more attention on what could potentially trigger an asthma attack:
Preventing infections by washing your hands frequently, not eating raw meat and unpasteurized milk-products, and avoiding large crowds during the flu season.
Reducing stress by getting enough sleep at night, taking breaks during the day, and having a strong family and friends support.
Maintaining low-impact exercises, like Pilates, as strenuous physical activity can trigger asthma attack.
Asthma and pregnancy require women preparing for childbearing to work closely with their obstetricians and immunologists to develop an effective management plan to prevent complications. However, even though experiencing asthmatic symptoms during pregnancy presents certain challenges, women with asthma can have healthy babies. Practices, such as avoiding the triggers, focusing on asthma-friendly diet, and keeping up with medications and supplements, such as Macafem, can help you bring your baby to term and enjoy good health for years to come.
- Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Asthma During Pregnancy. Retrieved November 17, 2017 from http://www.aafa.org/page/asthma-during-pregnancy.aspx
- American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. (n.d.). Pregnancy and Asthma. Retrieved November 17, 2017 from http://acaai.org/asthma/who-has-asthma/pregnancy
- CDC. Key Findings: Maternal Asthma Medication Use and the Risk of Selected Birth Defects. Retrieved November 17, 2017 from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/features/birthdefects-asthma-medication-keyfindings.html
- European Respiratory Journal. (2013). Asthma affects time to pregnancy and fertility: a register-based twin study. Retrieved November 17, 027 from http://erj.ersjournals.com/content/erj/early/2016/02/11/13993003.01389-2015.full.pdf
- Health Direct. Asthma and pregnancy. Retrieved November 17, 2017 from https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/asthma-and-pregnancy
- ISRN Allergy. (2014). Female Asthma Has a Negative Effect on Fertility: What is the Connection? Retrieved November 17, 027 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4005022/
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Managing Asthma During Pregnancy. Retrieved November 17, 2017 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2104591/
- NHS. Asthma in pregnancy – Pregnancy and baby guide. Retrieved November 17, 2017 from https://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/asthma-pregnant.aspx
- March of Dimes. (2013). Asthma during Pregnancy. Retrieved November 17, 2017 from https://www.marchofdimes.org/complications/asthma-during-pregnancy.aspx
- The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Asthma medication use in pregnancy and fetal growth. Retrieved November 17, 2017 from http://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(05)01355-2/fulltext