Can I Take Cough Drops While Pregnant?

Pregnant woman coughing

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We all know that all-too-familiar feeling of a tickle in the back of your throat followed by a coughing fit. Whether it’s due to a cold or allergies, a cough can be irritating at the best of times. But when you are pregnant and potentially battling other ailments like morning sickness or nausea, discomfort caused by your cough can be intensified. 

Before becoming pregnant, cough drops might have been your go-to cough suppressant. However, as with any medication now that you are pregnant, it’s a good idea to make sure that they are safe for you and your baby before taking them. 

The good news is that experts widely consider cough drops safe to take during pregnancy. However, there isn’t any concrete evidence to support this. With that in mind, there are a few considerations to take into account before reaching for those cherry-flavored throat soothers.

What Are Cough Drops?

Cough drops are primarily made up of menthol, a naturally occurring compound obtained from plant-derived peppermint and eucalyptus. You might also know them as throat lozenges or cough sweets and use them to reduce the irritation you can get in the back of the throat when you have a cough or sore throat. They are typically available over the counter without a prescription.

“Cough drops [are] a small solid oral medication utilized for short term relief of a sore throat as a result of a cold, flu, or oropharyngeal infection,” says Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, FACOG, director of perinatal services at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Centre. “Most of the preparations utilized contain menthol, which is soothing to an inflamed throat.” 

Coughing is normal from time to time, but if you are experiencing a persistent cough, reach out to a healthcare provider to get checked out.

“You should consult with your doctor or obstetric provider if you have a cough during pregnancy so that a proper evaluation and treatment plan can be initiated, particularly in the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic,” says Cynthia Gyamfi-Bannerman, MD, MS, a professor at the department of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at UC San Diego Health Sciences. 

Is It Safe To Take Cough Drops During Pregnancy?

Cough drops are considered to be OK to take during pregnancy. “This treatment is safe, but with everything, use the cough drops in moderation,” says Dr. Gyamfi-Bannerman. “Like most medications and supplements, cough drops have not been studied in pregnancy.” 

Dr. Gaither warns that those with underlying health conditions may want to study the ingredients list of their cough drops carefully before consuming them, particularly those who suffer from allergies or any form of diabetes.

“Some additives to cough drops may include natural herbal additives like peppermint, thyme, hyssop," Dr. Gaither says. "For those with pre-gestational or gestational diabetes, it's important to know that many cough drops contain sweeteners or corn syrup which can impact glycemic control in women with these conditions."

In this instance, opt for cough drops that are sugar-free, such as Ricola Cough Suppressant Throat Drops or HALLS Relief Honey Lemon Sugar-Free Cough Drops. However, nearly all the big brands that produce cough drops also sell sugar-free versions. 

“As with any medication it's best to make your physician aware of what you're taking as well as to peruse the ingredients,” says Dr. Gaither.

Every pregnancy is different. Be sure to consult with a healthcare provider about your circumstances if you have any questions about taking cough drops while pregnant.

What If I Take Cough Drops Before Realizing I'm Pregnant?

As cough drops are generally deemed safe to take during pregnancy, you do not need to worry if you took them before realizing you were pregnant. “[Cough drops] are not considered a risk in any trimester,” clarifies Dr. Gyamfi-Bannerman. 

Benefits Of Taking Cough Drops During Pregnancy

There are two main benefits of taking cough drops during pregnancy: to alleviate any cough-related pain and to ensure you stay well hydrated.

Your immune system becomes compromised when you are pregnant, which means you are more susceptible to picking up bugs. Not only can this be annoying, but it can also be painful. This is especially true if you are dealing with any pregnancy-related maladies, such as round ligament pain, which is discomfort associated with the stretching of the ligaments that run from your uterus to your groin.

For those with round ligament pain, any movement–including laughing or coughing–can cause ligaments to contract quickly, which intensifies the pain. Having cough drops on hand may be a way to stave off your cough and prevent any further discomfort. 

Additionally, you may find that a constant cough or a painful sore throat is preventing you from drinking as much water as you normally would. During pregnancy, it’s imperative that you stay well hydrated as some studies suggest that maternal dehydration can negatively affect a baby's birth weight.  

If you have been avoiding drinking due to the pain of your cough or sore throat, a cough drop may alleviate your symptoms enough for you to take in a sufficient amount of fluids. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends ten 8-ounce glasses of water a day.

Not only will all that H20 be good for your developing baby, but it will help kick your cold too. Staying hydrated will give your immune system a boost, while also helping loosen and clear any congestion.  

Safety Precautions

Cough drops are relatively safe to take. However, there are some things to be aware of.

If you have diabetes, opt for a sugar-free alternative to regular cough drops to avoid a spike in blood sugar levels. Additionally, Dr. Gyamfi-Bannerman warns that extremely large quantities of menthol should be avoided. However, she points out it would be highly unlikely that you would consume enough menthol from cough drops for it to cause harm to you or your baby.

“A typical cough drop has 5-10 mg of menthol,” says Dr. Gyamfi-Bannerman. “One would need to consume approximately 5-10 bags of cough drops to reach toxic levels of menthol.”

Pregnancy Safe Alternatives

While cough drops are safe to take in pregnancy, there are natural alternatives to fighting your cough that you might prefer. Along with plenty of rest and fluids, these include drinking hot water with lemon and honey and gargling with warm salty water.

One study cites honey as being more effective than over-the-counter medicines at alleviating the symptoms of a cough, while a further study has shown that gargling with warm salty water can reduce the length of a cold by up to two days.

However, if your symptoms worsen or you develop new ones, don’t hesitate to consult a healthcare provider. “It's imperative to see your physician if you have a sore throat, fever, difficulty breathing as this may portend to something more serious than a simple viral infection,” says Dr. Gaither. 

A Word From Verywell

Cough drops are safe to use during pregnancy but you should consult with a healthcare provider before taking them, especially if you have any concerns or underlying health conditions. “Patients with ‘colds’ or flu-like symptoms should consult their doctors or other obstetric care providers early, especially with a persistent cough,” urges Dr. Gyamfi-Bannerman. 

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