April 13, 2024

Having a cold during pregnancy is unlikely to harm the parent or the fetus. Treatment involves rest and staying hydrated. It may be safe to use certain over-the-counter medications, but some may have risks.

As a result, it is a good idea to consult a doctor or pharmacist before taking any cold medications. Non-drug treatments, such as nasal saline sprays or inhaling steam, may also help relieve symptoms.

Those with a fever, chills, or severe symptoms should speak with a doctor as soon as possible. This could be another type of infection that may pose a higher risk.

This article looks at what to consider when treating the symptoms of a cold during pregnancy, how to prevent a cold, and when to see a doctor.

The immune system is less robust during pregnancy. The National Child Trust in the United Kingdom says that this may mean the symptoms of a cold feel worse or last longer than usual.

Despite this, though, colds are usually not dangerous and often do not require medical treatment. After around 2–3 days, the symptoms will peak, and then begin to improve.

In the meantime, there are things pregnant people can do to manage their symptoms, such as:

  • resting
  • staying hydrated
  • lying down with the head elevated, as this may help with congestion
  • using saline nasal spray to unblock the nose
  • applying warm compresses to the head or sinuses
  • inhaling steam from showers or a bowl of hot water
  • taking honey to soothe a sore throat

People may wish to have a bath to inhale steam and soothe aches or pains. However, it is important to keep the temperature of the water below 95°F (35°C). Rises in core body temperature can be harmful to a fetus.

Read more about natural remedies for a cold or flu.

Some people use over-the-counter (OTC) medications to reduce cold symptoms. However, many pregnant people worry about whether drugs will affect the fetus.

While some options may be safe, others are not. Always ask a doctor or pharmacist if a product is suitable for pregnancy before taking it.

The following sections look at the typical ingredients in cold and flu products and whether they are safe.

Acetaminophen

Researchers believe acetaminophen may be one of the safest pain medications for use during pregnancy, but there is some evidence it has associations with developmental differences in children.

A 2021 review of previous research found correlation between prenatal acetaminophen exposure and autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and other conditions. A 2022 cohort study reached the same conclusion after following a group of 1,011 pregnant women for 3 years.

As a result, there is debate about whether acetaminophen is suitable during pregnancy. If people do use acetaminophen, it should be with a doctor’s approval, and at the lowest effective dose and for the shortest period of time.

Cough medicine

OTC cough medicines often contain medications such as dextromethorphan and guaifenesin.

Dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant. It appears to be safe at the correct dosage. It does not have any association with miscarriage, premature birth, or low birth weight.

Guaifenesin is an expectorant, meaning it thins and loosens mucus in the lungs. It is unknown if it increases the risk of miscarriage, preterm delivery, low birth weight, or behavioral problems in the child.

Read more about natural cough remedies.

Decongestants

Research has not yet established that all decongestants are safe during pregnancy. One of the most common decongestants, pseudoephedrine, may have a small risk of causing problems with the abdominal walls in fetuses.

The safety of other types of decongestant is unclear. However, saline sprays are a safe alternative.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

NSAIDs may carry risks during pregnancy. In early pregnancy, taking them can increase the risk of miscarriage or pregnancy loss.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also recommends avoiding NSAIDs after week 20 of pregnancy because the drugs have links to lower amniotic fluid. This can lead to complications.

NSAIDs can be useful for certain pregnancy complications, but for the common cold, it may be advisable to avoid them unless a doctor recommends taking them.

In addition to treating cold symptoms, people can prevent themselves from getting further colds by taking sensible precautions. The CDC recommends:

  • washing the hands regularly
  • avoiding close contact with people who have infections
  • avoiding touching the face, nose, mouth, or eyes with unwashed hands
  • avoiding smoking or secondhand smoke

A 2021 review of ways to support the immune system against COVID-19 also emphasizes the importance of nutrition. The authors highlight several nutrients in particular, including:

People can get these nutrients from their diet. If eating enough is difficult due to symptoms such as nausea or vomiting, speak with a doctor about ways of increasing intake, or for advice on supplements.

It is important to note that too much vitamin A can be harmful in pregnancy. The National Health Service (NHS) cautions against taking supplements that contain vitamin A or retinol.

Always check with a doctor before taking new dietary supplements.

Rhinitis is the medical term for inflammation and swelling of the mucous membranes in the nose. This can be the result of a cold, but it can also be due to pregnancy-induced rhinitis (PIR).

PIR is a common condition that causes similar symptoms to a cold, but is the result of changes that take place in the body during pregnancy. The symptoms begin as a result of pregnancy and then resolve after birth.

The symptoms of PIR can include:

  • a runny or itchy nose
  • congestion
  • sneezing
  • decreased sense of smell

A 2020 study of 681 participants found that PIR was more common in people carrying female fetuses. Pregnancy may also affect pre-existing nasal conditions, such as chronic sinusitis or allergies.

A cold during pregnancy is the same as any other cold. It is not likely to not harm the parent or fetus.

However, other infections have the potential to be more risky. One of these is the flu, or influenza. This can have similar symptoms to a cold, but flu tends to be more severe. Common symptoms in flu that are less common in a cold include:

  • fatigue or weakness
  • fever
  • chills
  • headache
  • body aches

If someone experiences a fever during pregnancy, they should contact their doctor to see what steps they can take to reduce the fever to safe levels as quickly as possible.

If the illness could be COVID-19 or flu, call the doctor or health facility before visiting in person.

Read more about pregnancy and the flu here.

Having a cold during pregnancy will not usually affect a fetus. Colds are mild illnesses that a person’s immune system can usually respond to without complications.

However, the person’s temperature can affect the fetus. If a person is experiencing a fever or other signs of infection, it is essential to speak with a doctor immediately to find the best way to reduce these symptoms.

When a person is pregnant, their body deals with a cold in much the same way as it does at any other time. The symptoms are temporary, and in most cases, the cold will be gone in around a week. Some symptoms may linger for up to 10–14 days, though.

If someone experiences the following symptoms during pregnancy, they should talk to a doctor right away:

  • a fever
  • difficulty breathing
  • fast breathing
  • symptoms that last more than 10 days
  • severe or unusual symptoms
  • symptoms that get better but then come back

Colds during pregnancy are common, and they are unlikely to harm the pregnant person or the fetus.

While there are some uncertainties over the safety of OTC cold remedies during pregnancy, people can relieve their symptoms using home remedies, such as rest, saline sprays, and warm compresses for headaches or sinus pain.

Contact a doctor if a pregnant person has a fever, if symptoms are severe, or they do not get better in 10 days.

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