Bronchitis is a painful and persistent condition which poses unique risks, especially in pregnant women. As the effects of pregnancy temporarily weaken the immune system, this disease makes the body more susceptible to the condition. It creates respiratory disorders and discomfort for the new mother and poses potential risks to the fetus. MomJunction helps you understand bronchitis and how it can be treated.
What is Bronchitis?
Bronchitis is an inflammation of the two largest airways that pass from the mouth to the lungs. The condition occurs due to the viral infection in the mucous membrane of the respiratory system, which generates more mucus and prevents self-purification of the bronchi. There are usually two forms of bronchitis – acute and chronic – with different symptoms and characteristics.
Bacteria or viruses cause acute bronchitis, which is not very harmful and does not pass any microbes from the mother to the fetus. It is easily treatable by drinking excess (non-caffeinated) fluids and electrolytes and requires almost no medication. (1)
Chronic bronchitis is a serious form which may last from several months to years. The mucus is usually discolored, and you may notice blood in it. The infection is recurring, which can damage the lungs and cause many major complications.
[ Read: Viral Infections During Pregnancy ]
Causes Of Bronchitis During Pregnancy:
Bronchitis is caused by the same viruses such as coronaviruses, parainfluenza viruses, and rhinoviruses, which also cause cold and flu. The mucus buildup as a result of cold, flu, or asthma can also lead to bronchitis. As this is contagious, the infected person can pass it around to others when she sneezes or coughs.
2. Breathing Irritants:
Cigarette smoke, tobacco smoke, smog, chemicals, chemical fumes, and dust particles can all lead to bronchitis. Breathing in fumes and smoking during pregnancy can aggravate the existing inflammation and result in chronic bronchitis. It will also cause congenital effects and lower respiratory tract illnesses in the child (2).
3. Prolonged Exposure:
Continuous exposure to inhalants such as grain dust, strong acids, ammonia, chlorine, etc., can cause bronchitis.
Bronchitis Symptoms During Pregnancy:
The initial symptoms of bronchitis include:
- Shortness of breath
- Sore throat
- Dry cough
- Gradual rise in temperature
- Drowsiness, weakness, irritability, and fatigue
- Loss of appetite
These first symptoms of bronchitis are similar to the symptoms of the first stage of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) (3). The symptoms can be treated at home. Acute bronchitis with a typical flow lasts for 10 – 12 days, and if the symptoms do not subside within this time, it manifests into a chronic form.
[ Read: Dry Cough During Pregnancy ]
Risks Of Bronchitis During Pregnancy:
Serious complications are unlikely to develop in most women. The major risks include
Breathing difficulty: Bronchitis results in ineffective oxygen intake into lungs due to the inflammation of the bronchial walls. This deprives your body of oxygen, making you breathe lesser than the optimal required levels and reduces the necessary oxygen to the fetus.
Medications that harm growing fetus: Certain cases of bronchitis may require treatment with antibiotics and other potent drugs. But these are harmful to the growing fetus. Therefore, doctors recommend good rest and basic caution to treat bronchitis. If these self-care measures fail, the doctors may prescribe medications whose effects cannot be predicted.
Pneumonia – In some cases, bronchitis occurs along with a low-grade fever. When the temperature increases, the growing baby will be at high risk. You may be suffering from high fever especially in case of pneumonia or when you are developing symptoms of the same. The need for potent medicines for pneumonia can also pose a great risk to babies.
Also, if you are suffering from fever, you may not take enough liquids. It causes dehydration and leads to contractions that can cause preterm labor. Bronchitis associated with fever can also put your baby at risk of serious complications like spina bifida (4) and in some cases, even death.
[ Read: Pneumonia During Pregnancy ]
Appetite Loss – Bronchitis will also affect your appetite levels. When you eat less, your baby will not get enough nutrients. It, therefore, hampers the overall health and development of your growing baby.
Placental Abruption – Severe cases of bronchitis may require hospitalization. According to a research study, hospitalization due to respiratory diseases is associated with placental abruption (5).
Home Treatments For Bronchitis:
If the symptoms are mild, you can follow some home remedies that may help in reducing the symptoms. They are not harmful to your fetus, unlike medications.
- Consume plenty of fluids, especially warm drinks. Some good options that you may try are:
- Tea with honey, raspberries, and lemon
- Hot milk with additives (of your choice)
- Decoctions made of herbs like sage, thyme, oregano, and coltsfoot (mother and stepmother)
- Take plenty of rest to support your immune system as it helps to destroy the virus.
- Garlic and raw onions are also great antiviral agents. You could swallow chopped garlic or onion mixed with raw honey, twice a day to relieve the symptoms.
- You can warm your chest and back by placing mustard plasters. They help in relieving chest congestion.
- Humidifiers or steamy showers manage your breathing difficulty. It can loosen the mucus and ease the cough.
- Nasal irrigation may help. You could make the saline solution using warm water (8 oz), salt (half tsp), and baking soda (half tsp). Lean over a sink with your head at 45-degree angle and nostrils facing the sink. Pour the solution into one nostril while breathing through the mouth. The fluid flows through the nasal cavity comes out through the other nostril. It, therefore, rinses off the mucus and helps you feel less stuffy. Repeat the same three to four times every day.
When To Meet The Doctor?
However, some situations may require immediate doctor attention, such as:
- A persistent cough accompanied by chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- Mucus followed by purulent sputum (6)
- Dyspnea (shortness of breath)
- Fever of 101+ degrees
Your healthcare provider will carefully examine both the mother and baby’s condition before deciding to offer any treatment. If it is a severe case, she will check your lung functionality and the extent of damage.
Diagnosis Of Bronchitis:
The initial diagnosis includes a careful physical examination of the pregnant woman based on the clinical symptoms. Your doctor examines the larynx to notice the reddish hue, ribs, and swelling, which occur during inhalation and exhalation. He also examines the tonsils, which would give a painful response to palpations of lymph nodes. Auscultation (listening to breathing) tells the frequency and depth of mucus build-up in the airways.
Laboratory tests make more accurate diagnosis and a general blood analysis helps in determining the signs of inflammation, increased amount of Hb (hemoglobin) and Ht (hematocrit) levels, and sputum production. A sputum gram stain is performed to check for the sensitivity to antibiotics to determine the right treatment.
In rare and severe cases, a chest X-ray is carried out to check the extent of bronchitis. However, they are mostly avoided to prevent the radiation risks to the fetus.
A differential examination is performed to check for the other signs of respiratory diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, and whooping cough, which could have similar symptoms.
Treating Bronchitis While Pregnant:
Following the diagnosis, if your doctor suspects your bronchitis is due to bacterial infection, she may prescribe medications. She has to proceed with caution as a lot of antibiotics are unsafe for use during pregnancy.
Below antibiotics are considered safe while you are pregnant:
You should not take a few antibiotics like tetracycline, sulfamethoxazole, and trimethoprim as they cause certain risks to the baby. The tetracycline class of antibiotics cause discoloration of your baby’s teeth and sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim are known to increase the risk of birth defects in babies.
Antibiotics are not the only treatments since bronchitis can also result from a virus, in which case, the condition resolves itself in some days. But if the symptoms continue to remain for days, you should consult your doctor for a better prescription to manage the symptoms.
[ Read: 5 Safe Antibiotics During Pregnancy ]
In any trimester, offering immediate treatment for the first symptoms is effective in eliminating bronchitis without affecting the mother and the baby.
In the first trimester, the doctor gives an anti-inflammatory therapy, such as the Bioparox drug (7) that offers a localized effect and destroys the infection to keep the fetus safe. Usually, a penicillin group of antibiotics is preferred in this trimester.
In the second trimester, cephalosporin antibiotics (8) are prescribed and they are safe for the baby. Expectorants like bromhexine, ambroxol, halixol, and mukaltin are also given to relieve a cough and swelling.
In the third trimester, based on the intrauterine infection, your doctor will prescribe the drugs along with intravenous immunoglobin therapy. The treatment for preterm labor and threatened miscarriage is done based on the characteristics of the disease.
Preventive Measures For Bronchitis During Pregnancy:
Though it is not possible to stay away from contracting bronchitis, some measures help to minimize its occurrence.
- Quit smoking and avoid exposure to second-hand smoke.
- Keep away from people who have bronchitis. If you notice anyone around you is affected by cold or flu, use a face mask.
- Rinse your hands frequently and use an alcohol-based sanitizer. It reduces the risk of contracting the viral infection.
- Limit exposure to all irritants like chemical fumes and household cleaners, as they aggravate the lining of the bronchi and put you at a risk of viral infection.
Frequently Asked Questions:
1. Are Albuterol inhalers safe for bronchitis during pregnancy?
Albuterol inhalers interact with other stimulant medications. They may, therefore, cause complications in women with underlying heart illnesses due to increased blood pressure and heart rate. They are not prescribed for pregnant women because they show teratogenic effects on the child.
2. Are steroids safe for bronchitis during pregnancy?
In severe cases of bronchitis, your doctor may prescribe steroid drugs. Though they sound scary during pregnancy, they are commonly used by the doctors to treat various pre-existing medical conditions.
3. Can excessive coughing affect the baby during pregnancy?
As coughing can be physiologically stressful, the mother’s body releases the hormone cortisol. This hormone could reach the growing fetus through the placenta and affect it adversely. The damage is seen more in women who experience a lot of stress. The new born could show birth and brain defects, have low birth weight, etc.
If you know any other home remedies for bronchitis in pregnancy, do share in the comment section. Stay safe and healthy!
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