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When you are pregnant, your immune system doesn't work at total capacity making it difficult to fight off a cold. Here's safe medicine you can take.
Medicines That Are Safe for Pregnant Women to Take When Sick
Written by Mid-Atlantic Women's Care on September 24, 2020.
Home Obstetrics Medicines That Are Safe for Pregnant Women to Take When Sick
When you are pregnant, your immune system doesn’t operate at maximum capacity, which is actually a good thing because it keeps your growing baby protected, and stops your body from thinking the fetus is an intruder. However, this comes with the downside that your body can’t ward off the viruses that cause the common cold quite as effectively. This can leave you vulnerable to the symptoms that come along, including a congested nose, cough, and sore throat.
As we move into cold and flu season, you may find yourself coming down with a cold, and while you can rest assured that your baby isn’t experiencing any of them, you want to get rid of the symptoms quickly and safely. While colds are mostly an uncomfortable annoyance best managed by a little extra rest, fluids, and patience, you may find yourself seeking out cold medications to alleviate your symptoms. We recommend making a call to your OBGYN so they can steer you in the right direction in terms of cold medications that are considered safe during pregnancy. Here are our own recommendations on what to do if you get sick while pregnant.
Common cold symptoms during pregnancy
Generally, a cold will start with a sore or scratchy throat lasting about a day or two, followed by the gradual onset of other symptoms which may include:
Sneezing Mild fatigue
A runny, then later stuffy nose
A dry cough, particularly as the cold is ending which may continue for a week or more after the other symptoms have mostly subsided
A low-grade fever typically under 100 degrees Fahrenheit
Cold symptoms usually last between 10 to 14 days. However, if your symptoms persist longer than that time frame or seem to progressively worsen, you should talk to your primary care physician so they can ensure it hasn’t turned into something more serious like an infection or the flu.
Is it a cold or the flu?
The best way to tell the difference between a cold and the flu is to take account of the typical symptoms.
A cold is milder than the flu. Its symptoms come on gradually and typically you only run a low-grade to no fever. It generally starts off with a sore throat that goes away after a day or two, a cold ends with the main symptoms of a runny nose and cough.
Influenza, commonly called the flu, is more severe and the onset is more sudden than a cold. Symptoms include a high fever (typically 101-104 degrees F or higher), headache, chills, a sore throat that typically worsens by the second or third day, intense muscle soreness, and a general feeling of weakness and fatigue. These symptoms, along with sneezing and a cough, can last a couple of weeks or longer.
What to do if you get a cold while pregnant
Before turning to medicine, there are some effective cold remedies that don’t come from a pharmacy shelf. Here are ways to alleviate symptoms and feel better fast:
Keep eating: It’s common to not have much of an appetite when you have a cold but it is important to eat a healthy diet while you are sick and pregnant.
Rest: While this won’t necessarily shorten the duration of your cold, your body needs rest. Sleeping can prove to be a bit difficult when sick with a cold. Breathe easier by elevating your head with a few pillows. Nasal strips can also help as they gently pull your nasal passages open. They are easy to find, sold over the counter and are drug-free.
Stay active: If you can, do some light to moderate, pregnancy-safe exercises. It will help your body to fight off the cold faster.
Drink lots of fluids: Symptoms of colds like sneezing, runny nose, and fever causes your body to lose fluids that are essential to you and your baby. Warm beverages like tea with honey (which helps to suppress a dry cough) or hot soup with broth are soothing for your symptoms and cold water and juices work fine as well.
Eat foods with vitamin C: Foods like citrus fruits, tomatoes, bell peppers, broccoli, spinach, melon, kiwi, and red cabbage are packed with vitamin C which will help to boost your immune system.
Get more zinc: Pregnant women should try to get 11-15 milligrams of zinc each day, including the zinc in prenatal vitamins. Foods like turkey, beef, eggs, yogurt, wheat germ, oatmeal, and pork will also help to boost your immune system.
Use a humidifier: Dry conditions in your home can aggravate your symptoms so using a cold or warm air humidifier at night can really help.
Use saline nose drops, rinses, and sprays. All of these can help to moisten nasal passages, and they’re unmedicated, so they are safe for use while pregnant. We do recommend avoiding neti pots, however, as they can spread germs.
Gargle with warm salt water: Gargling with warm salt water can help to ease a scratchy throat and help control a cough.
Medications that are safe for pregnant women to take for a cold
Before reaching for the medications in your medicine cabinet, reach for the phone and call your OBGYN to discuss the recommended remedies you can take for a cold while pregnant. Here are cold medications that are generally safe during pregnancy.
During cold season, we get a lot of questions about what over-the-counter medications are safe to take during pregnancy. Dr. Horsager discusses which drugs are safe and which to skip.
Which over-the-counter cold medications are safe during pregnancy?
January 9, 2018
Your Pregnancy Matters
Robyn Horsager-Boehrer, M.D.
Obstetrics and Gynecology
Most pregnant women can find relief from colds safely with over-the-counter drugs that treat specific symptoms.
Most people experience two to three colds during the winter and spring, and pregnant women are no exception. Colds are caused by viruses for which there is no real cure – you can treat the symptoms that make you feel crummy, but medicine doesn’t actually make the cold go away sooner.
Many over-the-counter (OTC) medications you can buy without a prescription come as multi-symptom formulas. These drugs are meant to treat every cold symptom: body aches, congestion, coughing, fever, headache, and sneezing. But not everyone develops every symptom of a cold, and pregnant women should avoid taking unnecessary drugs during pregnancy.
Instead of reaching for a multi-symptom drug, use the guidelines below to find an effective drug that’s safe for the symptoms you’re facing. And, as always, let your Ob/Gyn or nurse know about any OTC drug you take.
What to take for common cold symptoms
Dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant used in OTC medications such as Robitussin to reduce coughing. Cough suppressants can come in immediate-release and extended-release preparations. The maximum dose for pregnant women is 120 mg in 24 hours. The multi-symptom preparations that contain dextromethorphan often include “DM” in their name.
Guaifenesin is another medication frequently found in cough medications, such as Mucinex. It is an expectorant, so it helps thin mucus from your chest or throat so you can cough it up easier. It comes in immediate-release or extended-release formulations. The maximum dose you should take is 2,400 mg in 24 hours.
Cold medicines containing codeine were used in the past for cough suppression. I don’t recommend these for pregnant women because studies show they really don’t work well, and the fewer opioid-containing medications in our medicine cabinets, the better. For children, there is some evidence that honey can improve nighttime coughing. I certainly think this is an option for pregnant women as well. If you want to try honey, I suggest a spoonful of the real stuff – it’s not as clear that cold medicine with honey listed as a flavoring or ingredient is as effective.
Stuffy nose and sinus pressure
Decongestant medications reduce stuffiness and sinus pressure by constricting the blood vessels in your nose, which reduces swelling. Pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine are available over the counter as Sudafed and are safe for many women to use during pregnancy. However, women who have high blood pressure should not take pseudoephedrine without first talking to a doctor. The drug can raise blood pressure and can cause jitters and racing heartbeats.
Because pseudoephedrine can be used to manufacture methamphetamine, it’s now kept behind the pharmacy counter. You’ll have to provide identification to purchase it, and stores track how much you purchase. The maximum dose of a typical decongestant is 240 mg in 24 hours.
Sneezing, runny nose, and watery eyes
These symptoms are the result of histamine release, which is an immune response to an invading virus. Chlorpheniramine, such as Triaminic Allergy, and diphenhydramine, such as Benadryl, are safe to take during pregnancy. However, both can cause drowsiness, so these are best taken at bedtime. The maximum dosage for chlorpheniramine is 32 mg in 24 hours.
When compared to placebos, antihistamines have the most successful results within the first couple days of treatment. Patients didn’t report any relief of symptoms between days three and 10. Newer antihistamines, such as loratadine (Claritin), are approved for allergies, not colds, so there isn’t information about how well they work for cold symptoms.
Pregnant women can take acetaminophen (Tylenol) for a sore throat with a limit of 3,000 mg in 24 hours. An antihistamine may help if the sore throat is due to postnasal drip because it can dry up those secretions.
Sprays or lozenges that contain benzocaine, a local anesthetic, can help numb the throat. Menthol and phenol, such as Chloraseptic, are antiseptics that also help soothe throat discomfort. Sucking on hard candy can keep saliva flowing, which might reduce throat irritation.
A word about antibiotics
So many patients call asking for antibiotics for a cold, usually when they’ve had symptoms for several days. There are a few times when antibiotics are appropriate, for instance, strep throat or sinus infections caused by bacteria. But antibiotics simply don’t work against viruses that cause the common cold. Overprescribing antibiotics for viral illnesses leads to antibiotic resistance, which means the bacteria grow stronger over time and become tougher to beat with antibiotics.
If a doctor prescribes an antibiotic for cold symptoms, it’s usually a short, three-day round of drugs. The patient often feels better after finishing the medication but probably would have recovered in that timeframe anyway without the drug.
To sum up …
If you come down with a cold while pregnant and you want to take something for symptom relief, look for medications that are formulated for your specific symptoms. Avoid multi-symptom formulas, especially those containing acetaminophen. It can be easy to take more acetaminophen in a day than is safe because it’s in so many medications. Finally, be patient with cold symptoms – it can take a week or more for a cold to go away.
Strep Throat While Pregnant: Symptoms and Treatment
Symptoms of a strep infection during pregnancy may include a painful, swollen throat, or a fever. Here are the treatment options.
Strep Throat While Pregnant: Symptoms and Treatment
Medically reviewed by Michael Weber, M.D. — Written by Jessica Timmons on August 1, 2016
During pregnancy, you may enjoy perks like glowing skin and thick hair. Unfortunately, being pregnant doesn’t offer protection against a bacterial infection like strep throat. As unfair as it seems, you can come down with strep throat while you’re pregnant.
The good news is, not every sore throat automatically means that you have a strep infection. Still, it’s worth recognizing the symptoms and treatment options for strep throat in case you catch it during your pregnancy.
Risks of strep throat during pregnancy
This bacterial infection makes your throat sore and scratchy, along with other unpleasant symptoms. Usually, it’s accompanied by a fever and general exhaustion.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a strep throat infection that is left untreated can cause potentially serious complications including kidney inflammation and rheumatic fever.
Strep throat comes from bacteria known as Streptococcus pyogenes, or group A streptococcus. Sometimes, it’s confused with Group B streptococcus. This is a separate, unrelated bacterium that can be found in the vaginal or rectal area. A mother can pass this type of infection to her baby during delivery. It isn’t related to the bacteria that cause strep throat.
Group A streptococcus, which does cause strep throat, is a very contagious bacterium that spreads easily. You could catch it if someone with the infection sneezes or coughs and you inhale airborne droplets. You can also catch it if they’re sharing food or drinks with you. The bacteria can also survive on surfaces like doorknobs and then be transferred from your hand to your eyes, nose, or mouth.
Symptoms of strep throat
It can be difficult to separate various aches and pains during your pregnancy, but symptoms of strep throat will be noticeably different.
Symptoms of strep throat include:
very painful throat
red, swollen tonsils
white spots in the throat or tonsils
significant lack of energy, general weakness, and fatigue
difficulty swallowing and eating
swelling around the neck
enlarged lymph nodes
fever loss of appetite cough
Other symptoms of strep throat can include nausea, difficulty breathing, and abdominal pain. You don’t need to be experiencing every symptom noted above to have strep throat, but if you have a few of them, it’s worth speaking to your doctor.
If your symptoms point to strep throat, a quick test will confirm your suspicions. Your doctor will use a swab to collect a culture from your tonsils, and then have the results reviewed.
How is strep throat treated during pregnancy?
Antibiotics are prescribed to treat strep throat. During pregnancy, medications need to be carefully monitored. That’s why medications are assigned a pregnancy risk factor classification.
These ratings are intended to help you and your doctor make the best decision about medications during your pregnancy. Follow the guidelines below.
Category A is the best rating for a medicine: It means that controlled studies show no risk or no evidence of harm to you or your baby.
Category B medicine should be taken with caution: It means that animal studies haven’t shown risk, but no controlled studies have been performed on pregnant women.
Cephalexin, amoxicillin, and penicillin are three common antibiotics used to treat strep throat.
Cephalexin is a category B medication. Studies in animals show that it doesn’t impact fertility or hurt the developing baby. This medication does cross the placenta to the baby. There aren’t currently any reliable studies in pregnant women. For those reasons, this medication should only be used during your pregnancy when there aren’t other options.
Amoxicillin is a category B medication. Animal studies have shown no adverse effects on the developing baby. Again, it’s recommended only when the benefits outweigh the potential risks.
Penicillin is also in category B. In women with no penicillin allergy, it has shown no negative impact on the growing baby. Penicillin does pass into breast milk, but there are no reported negative side effects.
If you test positively for strep throat, you and your doctor can discuss your options.
Home remedies for strep throat during pregnancy
There are also home remedies to help relieve the discomforts of strep throat. You can try the following:
Gargle with warm salt water to help your sore throat feel better.
Avoid cold liquids, which can aggravate a sore throat. Instead, try caffeine-free herbal teas, such as chamomile or lemon tea with cinnamon. Be sure to stay hydrated.
Get plenty of rest to allow your body to heal.
Staying hydrated is a great way to reduce the risk of infection during pregnancy, so remember to drink your water. It’s also a good idea to be diligent about washing your hands before eating and after you’ve been out in public.
If you suspect strep throat during your pregnancy, speak to your doctor right away. Diagnosing strep as soon as possible means you can begin treatment. That’s the quickest way to avoid complications and start feeling better.
Last medically reviewed on August 1, 2016