What Asthma Medications Are Safe During Pregnancy?

Certain asthma medicines are safer than others during pregnancy..

What Asthma Medications Are Safe During Pregnancy?

One of biggest mistakes that pregnant asthmatics make is to stop using their asthma medications once they find out they’re pregnant. While medications can certainly pose risks to the fetus, the risks of untreated asthma usually far outweigh the small risk of fetal malformations from most asthma medications. Another common mistake for pregnant asthmatics is to stop seeing their regular asthma doctors once they’re pregnant.

I typically have my pregnant asthmatics see me once a month, and more often if necessary.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are no asthma medications that are considered completely safe in pregnancy. This is because no pregnant woman would want to sign-up for a medication safety study while she is pregnant. Therefore, the FDA has assigned risk categories to medications based on use in pregnancy.

Pregnancy category “A” medications are medications in which there are good studies in pregnant women showing the safety of the medication to the baby in the first trimester. There are very few medications in this category, and no asthma medications. Category “B” medications show good safety studies in pregnant animals but there are no human studies available. Pregnancy category “C” medications may result in adverse effects on the fetus when studied in pregnant animals, but the benefits of these drugs may out weight the potential risks in humans.

Category “D” medications show clear risk to the fetus, but there may be instances in which the benefits outweigh the risks in humans. And finally, category “X” medications show clear evidence of birth defects in animals and/or human studies and should not be used in pregnancy.

Rescue medications, used for the immediate relief of asthma symptoms, include inhaled bronchodilators such as albuterol.

While this medication is category “C”, our experience with using these drugs in pregnant women is enormous and shows no evidence of adverse effects on the fetus.

Controller medications for persistent asthma include inhaled steroids, which are the preferred method to control the underlying inflammation of asthma. Other medications in this group include Advair (fluticasone/salmeterol), theophylline, cromolyn, and Singulair (montelukast).

The preferred inhaled steroids include Pulmicort (budesonide), the only category “B” inhaled steroid, and QVAR (beclomethasone), since this inhaled steroid has been around for so long, and experience with it is positive. However, it is reasonable to continue other types of inhaled steroid during pregnancy if the mother was well-controlled with using that medication prior to becoming pregnant.

A combination product such as Advair or Symbicort may be required in patients with more severe asthma. These medications combine inhaled steroids with a long-acting beta-agonist (albuterol-like medication), and is used as a controller therapy.

Patients still require albuterol for “as needed” or rescue use.

Other controller medications such as theophylline (category “C”) and cromolyn, nedrocromil and Singulair (all category “B”) are reasonable to continue during pregnancy if the mother has had good benefit from the medications prior to pregnancy. However, none of these medications would be considered a “first choice” to start during pregnancy.

Xolair (omalizumab), is an injectable medication used for the treatment of asthma as a controller therapy. It does have a category “B” status, although since this medication has only been available for a few years, it should be used with caution in pregnant asthmatics.

Learn more about the diagnosis and treatment of asthma during pregnancy.


NAEPP Expert Panel Report. Managing Asthma During Pregnancy: Recommendations for Pharmacologic Treatment – 2004 Update. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2005; 115:36-46.

Blaiss MS. Management of Asthma During Pregnancy. Allergy Asthma Proc. 2004; 25:375-379.

ACOG/ACAAI. The Use of Newer Asthma and Allergy Medications During Pregnancy. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2000; 84:475-480.

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