Is It Safe To Use Cough Drops During Pregnancy?

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It is not uncommon for you to experience sore throat or throat irritation during the nine months of pregnancy. You may consider cough drops in such cases. However, some pregnant women may be apprehensive of using cough drops during pregnancy due to their effects on the pregnancy.

Read this post to learn about cough drops’ safety and side effects during pregnancy. We also suggest precautions and alternatives to cough drops during pregnancy.

What Are Cough Drops?

Cough drops are medicated candies that dissolve slowly on oral consumption. They offer relief from cough and sore throat caused by common cold and allergies. The medicine lubricates and soothes the throat tissues that are irritated due to cough and cold. They are also referred to as throat lozenges and available as over-the-counter medications (1).

Are Cough Drops Safe During Pregnancy?

Cough drops are usually considered safe when used temporarily for short-term ailments such as a short-lived cold or sinus inflammation called sinusitis. But, you should avoid overindulgence of these drops and exercise caution to prevent long-term usage. Also, not all medications work the same way for everyone. Therefore, it is best to consult your doctor before taking them (2).

Besides cough drops, some other over-the-counter medications you can safely try after consulting a doctor are (3):

  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  • Dextromethorphan (Robitussin; cough suppressant)
  • Guaifenesin (Mucinex; expectorant)
  • Mentholated cream (Vicks Vapor Rub)
  • Mentholated or non-mentholated cough drops
  • Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed; after 1st trimester)
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)

How Do Cough Drops Work?

The composition of cough drops varies significantly from one brand to another. They contain both active and inactive ingredients that we list next.

Active ingredients

ACTIVE INGREDIENTSPROPERTY
Benzocaine (4)The anesthetic that aids to numb a sore throat
Eucalyptus (5)Expectorant that soothes a sore throat and thins mucus
Zinc Gluconate Glycine (6)Boosts immunity, and wards off the virus
Pectin (7)Treats swelling or irritation
Dextromethorphan (8)Cough suppressant, and helpful for a persistent cough and sore throat
Guaifenesin (9)Expectorant that thins mucus
Menthol (10)Cooling property that relieves congestion and numbs the throat
Peppermint oil (10)Cooling property that treats nasal congestion

Inactive ingredients

Apart from the primary active ingredients mentioned above, cough drops may also contain certain inactive ingredients, which include natural herbs such as:

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

Since there are no specific warnings about the usage of these herbs during pregnancy, their effect on the mom or the baby is not known.

Which Ingredients Are Safe To Use During Pregnancy?

Cough drops containing guaifenesin and dextromethorphan are widely considered safe during pregnancy (11). Menthol drops are also regarded as safe, but there aren’t enough studies to prove they are safe or not during pregnancy (12).

Take cough drops that only help in relieving cough and sore throat. Those containing simple ingredients work better.

The list of popular cough drops that are considered safe for pregnant women are (13) (14):

  • Halls menthol cough suppressant/Oral anesthetic drops
  • Vicks menthol cough suppressant/Oral anesthetic drops
  • Cepacol sore throat and cough drops
  • Chloraseptic sore throat and cough drops

No matter what brand of cough drops you consider taking, it is advisable to check with your doctor before you do.

Which Ingredients Are Unsafe For Pregnant Women?

You should be aware of taking cough drops containing herbal ingredients as most of them are not tested for safety. Also, some include alcohol and should be avoided.

Are There Any Side Effects Of Taking Cough Drops During Pregnancy?

It is natural to reach out for that couch drop or lozenge when you have a cold or a sore throat during pregnancy, but it is important to consider the possible risks of taking it.

  • Suppress mucus production: Mucus is essential for the body to get rid of the germs (15). Cough drops could suppress the formation of mucus (16), trapping the germs within and increasing the chance of infection later.
  • Aggravate sugar levels: If you have gestational diabetes, cough drops will hike the blood sugar levels as many of them have high sugar content (17). Ingredients such as corn syrup and other sweeteners lead to a sudden increase in the sugar levels.
  • Uncertain ingredients: Some herbal ingredients are not safe for consumption, and therefore always check the composition and consult the doctor before you take medicine.

Read on to know more about the precautions you should take before taking cough drops during pregnancy.

Precautions To Consider While Using Cough Drops

Some of the dos and don’ts while taking cough medications are as follows:

  • Read the composition to check if you are allergic to any ingredient.
  • Check the expiry date as the medicine either loses its efficacy or taste or might be outright dangerous for you or baby when expired.
  • In the case of severe mucus formation, consider medical advice before choosing any cough drops.

When cough drops are not ideal for you, try the alternatives for relief.

Alternatives To Cough Drops

Sometimes, before trying cough drops, certain alternatives might help. It is better to choose natural remedies over medications to treat cough and sore throat (18).

  • Gargle with salt water (mix 1tsp salt in 8oz of water). It loosens mucus, relieves sore throat, and also kills the bacteria. Do not swallow the salt water because excess salt in drinks or diet may lead to medical conditions like high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnancy.
  • Drink teas – chamomile tea with honey, ginger tea made of fresh ginger root, lemon and honey tea, and clove tea with honey
  • Homemade chicken soup
  • Suck on a piece of garlic; it helps ease the sore throat and pain
  • Get enough sleep
  • Drink lots of fluids to clear a nasty cold
  • Use a humidifier in your room

When To Call A Doctor?

Refrain from using cough drops, skip home remedies and see a doctor if you are experiencing any of the following conditions:

  • Cough and sore throat that lasts for two or more days
  • The cough does not get better in a week
  • Having a temperature of 101°C or more
  • Having skin rash, nausea, vomiting, headache or swelling

Taking cough drops during pregnancy can offer relief from cough and sore throat, and they may not seem as hazardous as other medications taken during pregnancy. However, it is best to be cautious to keep yourself and the baby safe, as excessive cough drops may reduce mucus production, raise blood sugar levels, and include unknown herbal components that could be harmful. Therefore, exercising caution before taking any medicine during pregnancy is recommended. Also, consult your doctor and select which cough drops you can use when pregnant.

Key Pointers

  • Cough drops are usually considered safe if taken temporarily and in moderation.
  • It is advisable to consult a doctor as they may contain active ingredients such as Benzocaine, Dextromethorphan, Guaifenesin, certain herbs, and others.
  • Sweeteners present in cough drops may aggravate sugar levels.
  • You can gargle with salt water, drink ginger tea, use a humidifier, or take other alternative measures to relieve your symptoms. Seek medical help if they persist.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Cough Drop- menthol lozenge; National Institutes of Health (NIH) (2018)
    https://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/fda/fdaDrugXsl.cfm?setid=87fd9e18-8681-47a4-8614-239b8b55d69f&type=display
  2. Taking Medicine While Pregnant; University of New Mexico Hospital (2017)
    https://hsc.unm.edu/health/patient-care/womens-health/doc/patient-education/medicines-during-pregnancy-english.pdf
  3. Medicine Guidelines During Pregnancy; Cleveland Clinic
    https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/drugs/4396-medicine-guidelines-during-pregnancy
  4. Benzocaine; The United States Pharmacopeial Convention Inc (2000)
    https://www.lewisu.edu/academics/biology/pdf/benzocaine.pdf
  5. Raho G Bachir and M Benali; Antibacterial activity of the essential oils from the leaves of Eucalyptus globulus against Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus; NCBI (2012)
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3609378/
  6. Zin; PeaceHealth
    https://www.peacehealth.org/medical-topics/id/hn-2934002
  7. A. Black and D. A. Hill; Over-the-Counter Medications in Pregnancy; American Academy of Family Physicians (2003)
    https://www.aafp.org/afp/2003/0615/p2517.html
  8. Dextromethorphan (DXM); Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR);
    http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/dxm.asp
  9. Roberto Silva et al.; Is guaifenesin safe during pregnancy; The Journal of Family Practice (2007)
    https://mospace.umsystem.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10355/3626/IsGuaifenesinSafePregnancy.pdf?sequence=1
  10. Edward T. Moldenhauer; Common Herbal Medications; Naval School of Health Sciences (1999)
    http://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/virtual_disk_library/index.cgi/4931363/FID2617/DATA/operationalmed/meds/herbals.htm
  11. Pregnancy Safe Over-the-Counter Medications; MCG Health (2010)
    https://paws.augusta.edu/pub/patient-education/adult-info/Documents/O/Over-the-counter_medications.pdf
  12. Maximilian Arthur Kesner; Fighting the Sickness Cough Drops; Science in Our World: Certainty and Controversy (SC200) (2016)
    https://sites.psu.edu/siowfa16/2016/09/15/fighting-the-sickness-cough-drops/
  13. Lupe Cruz; OTC medicines that are okay during pregnancy; Intermountain Healthcare (2017)
    https://intermountainhealthcare.org/blogs/topics/live-well/2017/03/otc-medicines-that-are-okay-during-pregnancy/
  14. Jeffrey Boyle; The best over-the-counter medications during pregnancy; Sanford Health (2017)
    https://news.sanfordhealth.org/womens/best-counter-medications-pregnancy/
  15. Anne Trafton; Fighting bacteria with mucus; MIT News (2012)
    http://news.mit.edu/2012/fighting-bacteria-with-mucus
  16. Bronchitis; Cedars-Sinai
    https://www.cedars-sinai.edu/Patients/Health-Conditions/Bronchitis.aspx
  17. Gestational Diabetes; University of Wisconsin Hospitals
    https://www.uwhealth.org/files/uwhealth/docs/obgyn/Gestational_Diabetes_Handout.pdf
  18. Patient Education: Cough or Cold What to Take; University of Florida Health
    https://shcc.ufl.edu/services/primary-care/self-help-resources/health-care-info-online/patient-education-cough-or-cold-what-to-take/

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Dr Sachchidananda Maiti

(MD)
Dr Sachchidananda Maiti is a practising Consultant Gynaecologist & Obstetrician in Manchester, UK both in the National Health Service (NHS) and in private care at Pall Mall Medical. He has had decades of clinical experience in the UK and abroad. He specializes in managing high risk early pregnancy complications and a variety of gynaecological conditions using ultrasound scan, colposcopy, laparoscope... more

shreeja pillai

Shreeja holds a postgraduate degree in Chemistry and diploma in Drug Regulatory Affairs. Before joining MomJunction, she worked as a research analyst with a leading multinational pharmaceutical company. Her interest in the field of medical research has developed her passion for writing research-based articles. As a writer, she aims at providing informative articles on health and pharma, especially related to... more

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