Use of Decongestants During Pregnancy May Be Linked to Birth Defects

Written by yvonnethornton on July 22nd, 2013

Women have a long checklist list of products to avoid during pregnancy, from alcohol and caffeine to more serious chemicals that can seriously affect fetal development. However, the effects of certain medicines and other products have largely been unknown. One of the more common medications that women ask if they can use during pregnancy is the simple decongestant—something which most people take for granted. For a woman who is already suffering the discomfort of pregnancy, the idea of asking her to shoulder the burden of a stuffy nose and sinus pressure may seem a little harsh. However, new studies are suggesting that decongestants taken in the first-trimest of pregnancy may be a major item on the “to avoid” checklist, as they have been linked to birth defects.

The decongestants that researchers focused on in the study included both oral and nasal remedies. While the correlations between certain types of decongestants and potential birth defects still requires further investigation, this finding presents and opportunity to discuss one of the more important aspects of obstetric medicine. The simple fact of the matter is that there is no way to know all of the potential risks a woman faces during pregnancy.   Some women may not even know they are pregnant when taking these over-the-counter decongestants.  Therefore, any woman in the childbearing years who is not using effective contraception should think twice about relieving symptoms of an annoying stuffy nose as a trade-off  for increasing the risk of a child with birth defects.

While research has come a long way in identifying major risk factors, a number of other risk factors are still unknowns. This is even more so the case as new products are released into the market, new chemicals make their way onto store shelves, and ultimately pregnant women are exposed to an increasingly wider range of products during pregnancy. It is also a good reminder of the importance a woman should place on responsible behaviors during pregnancy, which include rethinking her normal habits and routines and consulting with a medical professional before taking any medication—even ones that seem fairly mild or harmless.

I hesitate to call women who take these products irresponsible or negligent—after all, not everyone is a doctor and not everybody has the access to medical information that can tell her at a glance what is and is not safe. That is why part of a responsible pregnancy is not only knowing to avoid certain products and materials, but is developing a good relationship with the medical professional in charge of one’s healthcare during pregnancy.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.


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