Asthma-inhalerContrary to popular belief, asthma is not an illness confined to children. It is the most common medical condition experienced by 3 to 8 percent of pregnant women.

Asthma occurs when the air in the lungs are reversibly blocked because of infections, allergies, cigarette smoke, pets, cold weather and severe exercise. Its symptoms include coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath that becomes worse at night. Poorly controlled asthma can cause severe complications for both mother and unborn child and it is now recommended that all pregnant women with asthma have peak flow studies.

A peak flow meter is a small, hand-held device used to monitor a person’s ability to breathe out air. It measures the airflow through the lungs and the degree of obstruction or blockage in the airways. Peak flow readings are higher when patients are well and lower when the airways are narrowed. The meter is also color coded: Green means everything is okay. Yellow means “caution” or some of the airway is blocked and medication is required. Red indicates a medical emergency dictating immediate medication and a phone call to a physician. Readings in the yellow and red zone have been associated with prenatal complications such as preterm labor and babies weighing less than five pounds.

Pregnant women should avoid asthma triggers such as mold, dust, rodents, pollens and cigarette smoke. Certain pets might have to be avoided as well. If symptoms of asthma become worse during pregnancy, medications might have to be changed or adjusted and a consultation from a high-risk obstetrician and/or an asthma specialist is recommended. Do not increase the frequency of your medication without the supervision of a physician as some asthma medication can cause complications, including irregular heartbeats and uncontrolled diabetes if taken improperly. It is also not recommended that pregnant patients take over-the-counter antihistamines such as Loratadine or Cetirizine before 12-weeks because of its increased association with birth defects.

Pregnant women with well-controlled asthma should anticipate a favorable outcome. When mom can breathe, the baby can breathe as well. What a wonderful sigh of relief.