At 13 weeks pregnant, Denise Daniel first noticed that she might be having problems with her pregnancy. While vacationing in Japan, Daniel, of Mamaroneck, New York, couldn't fall asleep one night. She suddenly felt a tightening grip her whole body, started gasping for breath, and finally blacked out. Although she didn't know it at the time, Daniel was experiencing anaphylactic shock brought on by allergies. While Daniel's life-threatening allergic reaction was severe—and rare—many women find that pregnancy can worsen their allergies and for some, even trigger allergy-like symptoms they've never experienced before.
What Causes Allergies
"Allergies are an inappropriate response by our body to things in our environment," explains Dr. Paul Gluck, MD, a clinical professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Miami School of Medicine.
Dust, mold, pollen, pet dander, even cockroaches can all trigger a body's immune system to go into defense mode and consider these substances harmful foreign bodies. Mounting the attack, the body responds to these airborne invaders by releasing histamines and other mediators as part of a chemical defense system. These chemical mediators react in different ways in various parts of the body: the nose becomes runny, eyes itchy and watery, skin may develop rashes or hives, and in the lungs histamines can create difficult breathing, as with asthma.
If histamines and the other chemicals go into overdrive throughout the body, a person can go into anaphylactic shock, which is a total system reaction shutdown that can be fatal.
Nearly 20 to 25 percent of women of childbearing age suffer from allergies. Of pregnant women, seven to eight are affected by asthma. While allergies are known to be a genetically predisposed condition, it's not as clear why allergic symptoms may become more severe during some women's pregnancies and hardly noticeable in others.
Allergic symptoms also vary in each pregnancy. So while a woman's first pregnancy may have been riddled with rhinitis (better known as a runny nose), in her second pregnancy she may be breathing easily.