Is it Safe to Have Cough Drops While Pregnant? Risks, Side Effects & Precautions | 11 Cough Drops Get Prescribed to Women Who are Pregnant

Many pregnant women are concerned about harming their baby unintentionally while they’re pregnant. This is especially true when they need to take some form of medication while pregnant. Coughs, colds, and cases of flu have no bounds and even pregnant women get sick every now and again.

If you’ve come down with a sore throat or a cold and you’re pregnant, you may be wondering if it’s recommended to take cough drops while pregnant. Indeed, cough drops work well for sore throats. They’re very nice to have on hand if your throat is hurting and you need to find some quick relief.

They are similar to candy in that you can suck on them to ease your dry mouth and sore throat. But are they safe while you’re pregnant? More than one pregnant woman has asked herself and her doctor this question.

With so much information available, it can be challenging at best to determine whether or not some medications are safe to use while pregnant. Sometimes, the information is conflicting and women are left confused and frustrated trying to find out what they can do for their sore throats while they’re pregnant. Here is more detailed information on cough drops and pregnancy.

What Are Cough Drops?

These small candy style medicines are used to offer temporary relief of a cough or dry throat. Available as over-the-counter medications, they don’t require a doctor to give you a prescription. They’re readily available at the local grocer, pharmacy, and even at the local gas station.

Taken for short-term relief, they may have dextromethorphan in them. There are different varieties of cough drops. Some are mentholated and some aren’t. While menthol can help to ease a cough, researchers haven’t yet determined how effective it is or if it’s safe for pregnant women. There are conflicting reports and a lot of questions.

Why You Might Need Cough Drops

Also referred to as throat lozenges, these offer relief from coughing and a dry throat. However, they may also help to reduce a runny nose, persistent cough, dry throat, sore throat, and cough. Cough drops may also reduce the length of time that you’re sick.

It’s important to keep in mind that during pregnancy, there may be medications that you shouldn’t take. They could cause severe damage to your unborn child. You want to know this information before you choose a medication so that you can make sure that your baby is safe. Doctors and researchers alike have asked this question time and again. Patients want relief but not at the cost of their child.

Some of the advantages of cough drops are the following:

  • Variety of flavors
  • Price
  • No need for a prescription
  • Convenient and easy to take with you
  • No need to worry about eating before you take them
  • Convenient packaging
  • No specific contraindications

Cough drops make you salivate and help to keep your mouth moist due to the location of the pharynx and the larynx. Thus, they suppress a cough and help to reduce the irritation in the throat. They can also help to alleviate pain as the throat is moister.

Some will help to alleviate pain by the medications that are incorporated into the recipe that is used to manufacture the cough drops. It all depends on whether or not the brands chosen are medicated or regular.

What to Know about a Cough during Pregnancy

A cough is the body reacting to stimuli. A cough can be a symptom of the irritation of your breathing; it can be a viral illness or an allergy. It can be due to pet hair or dander. It can be due to dust or some other irritant.

Coughing, in and of itself, isn’t a disease. It’s a sign of distress. If you are pregnant and have a cough, you should see your doctor and have him or her help you to choose the right treatment so that your baby will be safe.

It may be something that is short-term such as coughing due to dust or an allergy to a specific plant that may be in bloom. It’s important to understand that your cough may pose some serious danger to you and your baby if you don’t treat it properly and choose the proper medication.

Your doctor can best advise you on what your cough is caused and how to properly treat it so that you and your baby are both safe. Coughs can be annoying and you may have a lot of phlegm with your cough as well. 

Are Cough Drops Safe While Pregnant?

While cough drops may look very similar to candy, they often contain medication that may not be safe for your baby. Usually, cough drops are safe to take and won’t cause any harm to your or your baby. As long as they’re used short-term to ease your cough, the actual risk to your baby is minimal.

However, if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you may wish to ask your doctor if there are any specifics that he or she may prefer that you use. This is vital as what works well for one person may not work at all for another. In fact, they may be dangerous for some people.

Of course, if your doctor hasn’t given you any special instructions, you might simply grab a brand of cough drops and use them. In fact, most brands are just fine to use while pregnant. Read the labels and learn what is in the cough drop that you select. As long as you’re following the directions, you should be just fine.

Active Ingredients Found in Cough Drops

Not all ingredients in cough drops have been tested yet for safety during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Let’s consider menthol, for example. While it’s safe to use under normal circumstance and it may help reduce the irritation in your throat if you have a serious cough, not a lot of tests have been completed yet to see how it may affect an unborn baby.

You may wish to choose non-menthol cough drops while you’re pregnant. Of course, you can get either kind, but if you’re pregnant, you want to make the best possible choice for your baby. Many other ingredients may include:

1. Dextromethorphan

This is a cough suppressant. It will help to reduce or stop your cough for a period of time. It can also help to reduce that tickle in your throat.  It’s important to know that dextromethorphan was linked to birth defects in chickens.

2. Eucalyptus oil

This all-natural antiseptic kills bacteria. It can also help to expectorate mucus and loosen it. The aroma will help to clear the airways and the sinus system.

While essential oils aren’t advised during pregnancy, eucalyptus seems to be fine in cough drops while pregnant. The amount is minuscule compared to diffuse oils and spreading them on your skin.

3. Peppermint oil

Similar to menthol in cough drops, this isn’t recommended to use on the skin or in a diffuser while pregnant. While it’s okay to have small amounts in a cough drop, you should avoid the diffusers and skin oil applications, especially if you aren’t experiencing any nasal congestion.

4. Benzocaine

This is an anesthetic. It will help to numb an area of the body. It’s often used in numbing agents. It works in teething gels and toothache remedies. It’s very effective in helping to numb sore throats. It doesn’t enter into the bloodstream so it’s fine to take during pregnancy.

5. Zinc gluconate glycine

These are typically marketed as something that will shorten the time of a cold or the flu. According to medical evidence, there are mixed reports on whether or not it actually shortens the length of time that a person is ill. Many swear by it.

Prenatal vitamins frequently have zinc in them so keep this in mind when determining whether or not to use zinc lozenges. Avoid exceeding 40 mg of zinc during any given day. Zinc lozenges have approximately 13 milligrams of zinc per drop so limit these to 2 or 3 per day during pregnancy.

Zinc is a vital nutrient for helping to support the immune system; however, make sure that you’re not ingesting too much.

6. Pectin

Pectin works to help reduce irritation and swelling. This is an all-natural ingredient that is found in fruit. It’s typically used in fruit-flavored and non-menthol cough drop formulas.

Pectin was once used in anti-diarrheal medications but eventually banned because it wasn’t an effective ingredient. Pectin is considered to be the ingredient that works well for cough drops during pregnancy—after all, it’s made of fruit.

Inactive Ingredients Found in Cough Drops

In addition to the main active ingredients contained in cough drop medications, there are various inactive ingredients as well. For instance, numerous popular cough drop brands that are available over the counter have a long list of various herbs in their ingredients.

Although most (and in some cases all) of the herbs are natural, there have not been enough tests performed to determine any effects they might have on pregnancy. A cough drop may sometimes contain herbs that are all 100% natural and are safe for pregnant women to take by themselves but, when combined with others, may be dangerous for your baby’s development.

There are natural herbs such as the following contained in some brands of cough drops:  

  • Mallow
  • Linden flowers
  • Lemon balm
  • Hyssop
  • Horehound
  • Elder
  • Wild thyme
  • Thyme
  • Sage
  • Peppermint

Those herbs do not provide any specific warnings for using while pregnant.  However, it is also not known how a pregnancy might be affected by them. Ask your doctor to review the list of ingredients on the cough medication you are interested in taking, and they can tell you whether or not the herbs are safe for you to use while you are pregnant. 

Which Ingredients Can Be Used Safely during Pregnancy?

The following are some of the cough drops that we recommend:

  • Cough drops containing Chloraseptic and Cepacol might be safe to use while pregnant.
  • While you are pregnant you might be able to use menthol cough drops as well; however, no studies have proven the danger or safety of the use of menthol while pregnant.

Since there are not enough studies that have focused on using menthol while pregnant, make sure to consult with your doctor on whether or not it is safe to use cough drops containing menthol as their active ingredient in order to remain as safe as you possibly can.

Which Ingredients Are Not Safe for Pregnant Women to Take?

Some of the active ingredients contained in cough drops have adverse or unknown effects that need to be used in moderation. Some ingredients might be safe to use while pregnant while others could lead to such complications as:

1. Don’t take cough drops containing herbal ingredients since they often have not been tested for safety. 

2. Don’t take cough drops containing alcohol and search for alcohol-free options instead.

3. Only take benzocaine cough drops for two days maximum.

Benzocaine lozenges may help with irritated or sore throats, but should only be used as needed while pregnant. There have only been limited animal studies and no human studies, but there is some limited evidence that benzocaine might increase the risk of stillbirth.  

4. If you are not sure of what specific effects a combination of herbs might have on your developing infant, then speak with your doctor before you take any cough drops, even ones that say they are “all natural.”

5. There haven’t been reports of any negative effects on pregnancies due to using menthol.  Speak to your doctor first before you take menthol cough drops while pregnant to be safe. 

6. Avoid using guaifenesin during the first trimester of your pregnancy.

The American Academy of Family Physician has cautioned against using certain ingredients that might be contained in some cold medications. Guaifenesin is one of them. It is an expectorant that thins the mucus and might not be safe to take during the first trimester of pregnancy.

7. Certain sugars, corn syrup, or herbs contained in cough drops may not be what has been suggested by your doctor.   

Why? Because those herbs or sugars might be counterproductive if you have a high-risk pregnancy or at risk of getting gestational diabetes.

8. Avoid taking echinacea. It is a controversial herbal product that is used for treating cold. 

9. Do not take naproxen sodium, ibuprofen, or aspirin unless your midwife or doctor directs you to.

A Note on Cough Drops Containing Dextromethorphan

A low dose of dextromethorphan, which is a cough suppressant, is contained in some cough drops along with many over-the-counter cough syrups and medicines.

Examples of cough drops containing dextromethorphan include Chloraseptic Sore Throat and Cough and Cepacol Sore Throat and Cough. The dextromethorphan contained in those cough drops is thought to act in your brain’s cough center in order to suppress your cough reflex.

There was an association found between dextromethorphan and birth defects in chicken embryos by a 1998 published study. However, there are some researchers that question whether those findings can be applied to humans. Two human studies were conducted subsequently and no increased risk for birth defects was found in women taking dextromethorphan while pregnant.

According to most experts, it appears that it is safe to use dextromethorphan while pregnant.  However, deciding whether or not to use cough drops that contain dextromethorphan during pregnancy is best made between your healthcare provider and you.       

Cough Drops That Do Not Contain Dextromethorphan

There are a number of different nonmentholated and mentholated cough drops that are available that do not contain dextromethorphan. Menthol has long been used to treat colds and coughs although there is a lack of research when it comes to its effectiveness.

There are some cough drops that include a blend of herbs in them. If you are not sure what special effects the herb blend will have on your developing infant, talk to your doctor, even when cough drops have been labeled as being all natural.

Some of the other common ingredients contained in cough drops include honey, eucalyptus oil, lemon oil and numbing medicines like benzocaine and dyclonine. These medicines help to soothe the throat and might help to suppress coughing as well.

There is only a very small amount of those medicines contained in cough drops, and they are considered to be safe for pregnant women by many healthcare providers.  However, there is a lack of research that has specifically examined the safety of benzocaine and dyclonine during pregnancy, so discussing their use with your doctor is always the best thing to do.

Risks and Side Effects of Using Cough Drops While Pregnant

When your access to taking allopathic medicines is limited, it is only natural to want to take a lozenge when you have a cold and are pregnant. The following are some potential side effects that need to be considered before you do that:

1. High amounts of sugar

A majority of cough drops contain high amounts of sugar, and if you suffer from gestational diabetes or diabetes, it might increase the levels of your blood sugar.

2. Questionable ingredients

There are some cough drops that might contain herbal ingredients that might not be safe to consume during pregnancy because studies on them are lacking.

3. Suppresses mucus

Mucus is necessary for eliminating germs from the body. But sometimes mucus formation might be suppressed from taking cough drops and germs may get trapped inside of the body and resurface later.

So before taking any type of cough drops, be sure to carefully read the label. Get advice from your doctor if you have any doubts.

Which Cough Drops Get Prescribed to Women Who Are Pregnant?

Cough drops don’t allow virus and bacteria from the throat to get into your lower respiratory tract. However, serious complications may develop if a cough gets treated only with these sweets.

Although cough drops might appear to be simple, they definitely are not all created equal. Search for cough drops that do not make claims to do anything other than to soothe your sore throat and cough. If a product claims to provide a boost of vitamins or shorten your cold, then it contains ingredients that you shouldn’t ingest. 

Simple ingredients lists are the best. The following are some of the more popular cough drops that have been deemed to be safe by experts to use during pregnancy when needed.

  • Luden’s
  • Walgreens
  • Vicks Menthol Cough Suppressant
  • Robitussin DM
  • Halls Menthol Oral Anesthetic Drops
  • Halls Menthol Cough Suppressant
  • doTERRA On Guard
  • Cold-Eeze
  • CVS (Honey Lemon/Cherry)
  • Chloraseptic Sore Throat and Cough
  • Cepacol Sore Throat and Cough

There are some other brands like Ricola or Sucrets that medical professionals have questioned.  Some have told their patients that it is okay to use Sucrets. Ricola says on the package that it is not suitable for nursing or pregnant women; those who want to take those cough drops should definitely consult with their doctor first.  

The medications that follow have been labeled as being “class A.” This means they have been used by many women while pregnant and birth defects did not significantly increase:

1. Saline (Salt Water) is a nasal spray that is used for treating stuff nose.

2. Unisom (Doxylamine) is used for treating allergies and sneezing.

The medications below have been labeled “class B.” That means no birth defects have been shown in research studies conducted on animals or human studies haven’t shown any birth defects. However, those medications have not been used by enough women to be considered “class A.” 

3. Chlor-Trimeton (chlorphenairamine) is used for treating colds and allergies.

4. Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is used for treating colds, sneezing, and allergies.

5. Tylenol (acetaminophen) is used for treating sore throats and headaches.

The following medications have been labeled “class C.” That means little information is available regarding the effects the medication has on unborn babies.  However, so far nothing harmful has been found.

6. Dextromethorphan is an ingredient commonly found in cold and cough medications.

7. Robitussin (guaifenesin) is used for treating cough

8. Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) is used for treating colds and stuffy noses

When buying cough drops, do not simply choose one based on what flavor it is. Instead, carefully read the label and make sure that it treats the specific condition that you have so that you don’t overmedicate and purchase something that contains ingredients for treating symptoms you don’t even have. 

Remember that any cough drops that are taken during pregnancy should be prescribed by your doctor. These drugs do not have any special contraindications. You just need to study their composition carefully to avoid getting allergies.

Tips for the Relief of a Cough or a Sore Throat

For those who feel unsure after reading all of the above whether chemicals are the right way for you to go, there are various natural remedies that you can try. Below are some natural alternatives to cough drops that are effective against a sore throat and cough:

  1. Drink plenty of fluids to soothe your throat and avoid dryness.
  2. Chamomile tea sweetened with honey is a great way to soothe a sore throat and calm a cough.
  3. To soothe an irritated throat, make tea by boiling a few cloves in water and adding honey (a natural antiseptic and soother).
  4. Suck garlic cough drops. Literally, place a garlic clove in each cheek and suck on it like you would do a cough drop.
  5. Home-made chicken soup is an age-old remedy that does wonders to relieve the symptoms of a cough or a sore throat.
  6. Sip a cup of lemon and honey tea.
  7. Adding fresh ginger to your normal cup of tea will also help to soothe a sore throat.
  8. Add a dash of cayenne pepper and a spoon of honey to boiling water and drink when it has cooled down.
  9. Soothe an irritated throat by gargling with salt water several times a day.
  10. Use a humidifier in the room to keep the air moist and prevent your throat from drying out too much.
  11. When in a pinch, suck on ice chips to soothe your irritated throat or to stop a coughing bout.
  12. Breathing in steam has the same effect as using a humidifier. To do this, boil water in a pot, remove it from the heat, cover your head with a towel and breathe in the steam.
  13. Eat more nutritious foods.
  14. Make sure that you are getting enough sleep.
  15. If you are suffering from a truly awful cold, it is best to eat bland foods and avoid spicy dishes that could irritate your throat.

Avoid any over-the-counter medications when you are pregnant. If you choose to have cough drops while pregnant, speak to your doctor first as some ingredients in cough drops should not be taken together with certain other medications.

When using cough drops, make sure that you know exactly what type of medication you can use safely and how much to take. Even then, try to avoid taking any form of medication while pregnant unless you absolutely have to and only under the supervision of your doctor.

Considerations and Precautions

If you are pregnant, here are some precautions you should take before using cough drops:

  • Choose sugar-free products if you suffer from gestational diabetes.
  • Check the label for ingredients that may act as possible allergens.
  • Check the sell-by date on the label as out-of-date cough drops will not only taste bad but will have lost its efficacy.
  • If you have a lot of mucous, consult your doctor before taking cough drops as some ingredients may suppress mucous formation.

Cough drops should only be taken by pregnant women if they have been prescribed by a doctor. They are fairly safe to take but you should be cautious not to exceed the recommended dose advised by your doctor. Because they taste a lot like candy, you may be tempted to take more than the recommended dose, but remember that while they taste good, each one delivers small amounts of medication every time you take it.

When taking cough drops while pregnant the same precautions that apply to the normal use of these remedies should be strictly adhered to. While side effects from taking cough drops are very rare, the risk increases for pregnant women. Some side effects to look out for include:

  • Itchiness or a skin rash
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • A burning sensation in the throat
  • Constipation, diarrhea, or other disorders of the digestive tract

Cough drops can be taken at any time regardless of meal times. There is only one rule to abide by—do not eat or drink anything for 30 to 60 minutes after taking cough drops to give the medication time to have the maximum therapeutic effect.

An Important Note for Pregnant Women Who Suffer from Diabetes

There are specific ingredients in certain cough drops that pregnant women should not be exposed to in any way, shape, or form. In addition, as many cough drops contain sweeteners or corn syrup, you should consult your doctor before taking them if you are pregnant and have Type 1, Type 2, or gestational diabetes. These ingredients can cause blood sugar to rise rapidly, making it much harder to manage blood sugar levels while taking them.

When to Call Your Doctor

In some cases, home remedies may not be effective, in which case it would be better to consult your doctor to find out whether you need medical treatment. You should seek your doctor’s advice immediately should the following situations occur:

  • If you develop a fever of 102° Fahrenheit or higher
  • If you have a sore throat that persists for longer than two days
  • If you have developed any kind of skin rash
  • If you have a cough that lasts for more than two days
  • If you have a severe cough right from the start and is caused by your breathing
  • If home remedies have been ineffective at improving the symptoms
  • If you develop a severe headache
  • If you feel nauseous or are vomiting
  • If you are coughing up discolored mucus
  • If your cough is accompanied by wheezing or chest pain

If you experience any of the above symptoms you may need immediate medical attention and should get in touch with your doctor right away.

Talk with Your Doctor

If you are pregnant, talk to your doctor about whether it is safe for you to take any type of medication, including cough drops, during pregnancy. Your doctor may want to examine you to determine the severity of your symptoms before prescribing medication.

Here are some tips to help keep you safe and happy while taking cough drops during your pregnancy:

  • Ask your doctor how often and how long he recommends you can safely take cough drops.
  • Tell your doctor when your symptoms become severe or last longer than a couple of days as you may have a more serious underlying condition.

Tell your doctor if you are producing a lot of mucus when coughing. In this case, it may be better to avoid taking cough drops and rather allow your body to naturally clear all germs from your system through the production of mucus.

Bottom Line

During pregnancy when the health of your baby is of such great importance, it can be confusing to know what is safe to take and what is not. The use of any type of medication during pregnancy is a decision that should only be taken in consultation with your doctor.

While most doctors will approve the use of cough drops while pregnant, they will always emphasize moderation. The consensus among the medical community is that cough drops are safe for pregnant women; however, it is always best to exercise caution when taking medication. Take time to read the labels on packages and compare the ingredients in order to choose an option that is best for you.

Because you never know when you will get a cold or a sore throat, it is better to avoid getting sick as much as possible because prevention is always better than a cure. Wash your hands frequently throughout the day and take a sanitizer with you to use whenever you are unable to wash your hands.

References

  1. Pregnancy and OTC Cough, Cold, and Analgesic Preparations. https://www.uspharmacist.com/article/pregnancy-and-otc-cough-cold-and-analgesic-preparations
  2. Over-the-Counter Medications in Pregnancy. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2003/0615/p2517.html
  3. Teratogenesis of Dextromethorphan in the Avian Embryo. https://www.nature.com/articles/pr19982249
  4. The safety of dextromethorphan in pregnancy : results of a controlled study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11171724
  5. Safe Medicines During Pregnancy. https://www.womenscare.com/obstetrics/safe-medicines/
  6. Cough And Cold During Pregnancy. http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-complications/cough-cold-during-pregnancy/

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