Cold During Pregnancy: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments And Prevention

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A cold or a cough is as common during pregnancy as it is during the normal times. But, what makes it different during pregnancy is that you cannot take the liberty to pop in some pill to get relief. Instead, what you need to try is to avoid it or deal with it carefully.

Do you know what causes cold, and what you can do to get relieved from the cold during pregnancy? MomJunction has put together some relevant information. Read on.

Causes Of Cold

Cold is a common infection of the upper respiratory tract. Contrary to popular belief, cold is not caused due to the mere exposure to cold weather or not being dressed warm enough. There are more than 200 types of viruses that lead to the misery.

Let us understand common cold causes in detail:

Human rhinoviruses: There are more than 100 types of these viruses that can cause a common cold. They survive the best inside the human nose. These viruses are highly contagious, but can rarely cause serious health issues.

Coronaviruses: Only about six types of these viruses can affect humans, while the rest are seen only in animals. They mainly cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and COVID-19.

Human parainfluenza virus (HPV), adenovirus, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV): These viruses cause mild infections, and may affect if you have a weak immune system.

[Read: How To Deal With Upper Respiratory Tract Infection]

Cold Symptoms During Pregnancy

As is commonly known, cold begins with a scratchy or a sore throat, which would last for a couple of days, followed by other signs such as:

  • A runny nose that may later turn stuffy
  • Continuous sneezes that make you uncomfortable
  • Feeling of tiredness
  • A dry cough that would start after the cold ends
  • Slight fever (less than 100 degrees F)

The symptoms are common for a cold whether it is during pregnancy or normal times. The only thing is that your symptoms would last longer during pregnancy as the immune system functions at a slower pace.
The best part is the common cold in pregnancy is that it will not pass through the placenta and infect your baby.

Cold Or Flu – Can You Identify It Right?

You may sometimes mistake cold to be flu since the symptoms are almost similar for both the conditions. But you can differentiate between them:

Cold is milder than the flu, and its symptoms develop gradually. There is no fever, and sore throat that begins the cold goes away in a day or two leaving cough, runny nose and sneezing.

Influenza is a severe condition and develops all of a sudden unlike cold. The signs include high fever (102 to 104 degree F and higher), chills, headache, sore throat which worsens in two or three days (unlike cold), fatigue, general weakness and muscle soreness. You may also have occasional sneezing and a severe cough.

What Can You Do To Alleviate Cold During Pregnancy?

There is no doubt that a cold will leave you depressed during pregnancy. Thankfully, there are several things you can do to feel comfortable and make your condition bearable. You can follow these home remedies for cold to help you feel less miserable.

1. Increase your fluid intake

Your appetite will be affected by the cold. But you can supplement your nutritional needs by consuming fresh juices, soups, and broths. Increase your fluid intake to help your body flush out the congestion and phlegm. Try to drink about eight to 10 glasses of liquids every day. You can have water, fresh juices, and even pops.

2. Drink water

Water is good when you have a cold. Staying hydrated will replace the fluids you lose due to your runny nose and sweating. As a pregnant woman, you have to drink about ten glasses of water. So if you have a cold, drink anywhere from 12 to 13 glasses. Drinking water will also clear mucus buildup.

3. Eat nutritious food

Remember the age-old saying – feed a cold and starve a fever. There is the reason for this. Your body needs nutrients to build up its immune system. So look to eat vibrantly colored veggies, such as tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, spinach, and fresh fruits to give your body antioxidants, such as flavonoids and carotenoids, vitamins, and minerals. Antioxidants improve your immunity and help you fight off infections. A balanced diet will ensure you have all the vital nutrients required to stay healthy.

Don’t compromise on your food no matter how horrible you feel. If you cannot eat three regular sized meals, break your meals into six small ones.

4. Bed rest

When you have a cold, you need bed rest to beat the infection. Try to sleep as much as you can, so that your body can focus on fighting the disease and getting better. Also, bed rest will prevent the virus from spreading to other members of your family. Just get onto the bed and let your partner pamper you. Before you know it, your cold will be a distant memory.

5. Keep your head elevated

The tiredness will get on you. So don’t feel guilty about lying down when you feel fatigued. Keep your head raised using pillows. It will help you breathe without difficulty and reduce nasal drip.

6. Apply warm compress

The cold may block your sinus due to nasal congestion, causing pain. You can alleviate the pain with a warm compress. Apply the compress several times during the day to get relief (1).

7. Steam inhalation

The worst part of a cold is a blocked nose, which makes it nearly impossible to breathe. You can ease the congestion with steam inhalation. It will help with clogged sinuses. Add a few drops of eucalyptus oil in boiling water and inhale the vapors. Put a towel over your head, so it covers the bowl as well, and you can get the maximum benefit from the vapors. Inhale deeply, but keep your eyes closed as the steam will sting your eyes. The inhalation should make it easier for you to get rid of the mucus.

8. Wash your nose with saline solution

You can rinse your nose with over-the-counter saline solution or ocean fluids prepared as sprays or pumps. You can even prepare salty water at home to rinse your nose and breathe more easily.

9. Take lemon juice and honey

This age-old remedy is excellent for a sore throat. Mix fresh lemon juice and some honey (to sweeten) in a glass of warm water. Sip it while it is warm to ease the discomfort.

10. Eat fresh garlic

Garlic has antiviral properties that work significantly in killing the virus. You can take a small piece everyday or add it to your daily diet.

Medicines For Cold During Pregnancy

You shouldn’t take any medicine for cold during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, especially in the first trimester, without your OB/GYN approval. This is a critical time for the development of baby’s organs. After 12 weeks the situation could ease out and your doctor might prescribe one of these medications for cold:

Medications that are safe to take after 12 weeks of pregnancy

  • Vicks plain cough syrup
  • Robitussin DM cough syrup and dextromethorphan
  • Cepacol lozenges or Hall’s cough drops
  • Menthol rubs to use on your temples, chest and under the nose (it can be also used during the first trimester)
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pains, fevers, and aches
  • Expectorant during the daytime
  • Cough suppressants during the nighttime

Medications to avoid unless recommended by your doctor:

  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
  • Bactrim (antibiotic)
  • Codeine
  • Aspirin
  • Naproxen (Aleve)
  • Homeopathic remedies (echinacea)

[Read: Home Remedies For Sore Throat During Pregnancy]

While it is not prudent to take OTC medications for cold during pregnancy, research shows most products available in the pharmacy have almost the same active ingredients, which do not pose a risk to pregnant women when used for a short period (2)However, you should always consult your doctor for any over-the-counter medications. If you can try an alternative to the drugs to get rid of cold, then why not?

Alternative Treatments For Cold During Pregnancy

Here are some non-medication ways to get relief from cold and nasal congestion.

1. Throat lozenges and cough mixture

You can take a throat lozenge or cough mixture that contains glycerin. It will ease the congestion and soothe your throat.

2. Nasal spray

Use a nasal spray to reduce the severity of a cold. The irrigation will remove the germs from your nasal passages and also ease the congestion providing relief from cold during pregnancy. However, before you use a nasal spray, learn from your pharmacist if it is safe for pregnant women.

3. Vapor rub

Sometimes a simple vapor rub can do wonders. It can ease the congestion, help with the chest pain, if any, and make it easier for you to breathe without problems.

4. Menthol lozenges

You can suck a menthol lozenge to ease the congestion and alleviate nasal stuffiness. The menthol also soothes your sore throat.

5. Vitamin C supplements

Strengthen the immune system by taking a supplement of vitamin C. It is a potent antioxidant and will help keep your body and cells healthy. However, it is best to consume natural sources of the vitamin, such as oranges and fresh lemon juice with water.

6. Nasal irrigation

Nasal irrigation can ease congestion and help reduce the severity of the cold. Nasal irrigation solutions are nothing but sterilized or distilled water. So, you don’t have to use any medication. You can use a neti pot, bulb syringe or squeeze bottle to gently irrigate your nose, flush out the mucus and get some respite.

7. Vaporizer tablets

A vaporizer tablet is an effervescent tablet that emits vapor when it dissolves in hot water. Typically, the tablet contains sodium bicarbonate or baking soda, sodium carbonate and essential oils such as lavender, eucalyptus, and peppermint. These ingredients are used in lotions, aromatic candles, and several other home products. There isn’t information to suggest that these ingredients harm pregnant women. So you may use these tablets.

8. Humidifier

Running a humidifier in your home when you have a cold will give you the much-needed relief. The moisture added by the humidifier will ease pressure in your sinuses, and provide relief to your dry, achy throat. Humidifier uses just water and no chemicals, so you need not worry.

9. Nasal strips

You can get nasal strips in any pharmacy. These strips are marketed as a way to control snoring. However, you also can use them if you have a cold. They help spread your nose, widening your nasal passages, and this allows you to breathe even when you are suffering from a congested nose [3].

[Read: Stuffy Nose During Pregnancy]

How To Prevent Getting A Cold During Pregnancy?

When you are pregnant, your immune system is weak and it leaves you vulnerable to viruses. But it doesn’t mean that you will necessarily catch a cold. You can take steps to avoid the situation.

1. Maintain hygiene

Rhinovirus, the virus that causes the common cold, spreads through the air. The airborne droplets contain the virus, and on inhalation, you will catch a cold. The other reason for transmission of cold is hand contact.

So the best way to prevent a cold is by maintaining good personal hygiene. Make sure you wash your hands often, especially before you eat. Also, avoid touching your face.

2. Flu vaccination

Get a flu vaccine to protect yourself from flu outbreaks and colds. A flu shot during pregnancy will not pose any harm to your baby.

3. Hand sanitizer

Always carry a hand sanitizer with you when you are going out. Remember you may not get an opportunity to wash your hands, and under such circumstances, you can use the sanitizer to clean your hands. The alcohol present in it minimizes the spread of cold-causing viruses.

[Read: Boost Your Immune System During Pregnancy]

Tips To Boost Your Immunity

A good way to prevent and treat colds and also strengthen your immunity is by eating foods beneficial for your immune system.

1. Almonds

Almonds can boost your immunity during pregnancy. The skin of the nut contains natural chemicals that help the white blood cells identify viruses and destroy them.

Eat a handful of almonds every day as they are replete with copper, riboflavin, and manganese, which help the body produce energy. They also contain calcium and phosphorus that strengthen bones and teeth and phenylalanine that improves brain function. Let’s not forget that almonds contain folic acid that you need for proper development of your baby’s nervous system and brain.

2. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is also known as the sunshine vitamin because your skin produces it when exposed to sun rays. It is essential for boosting your immune system and keeping colds at bay.

Usually, your OB/GYN will put you on vitamin D during pregnancy, and even when breastfeeding. You can also get the vitamin from food sources, such as oily fish and eggs, fortified margarine and breakfast cereals.

3. Zinc

Zinc is a trace mineral that supports your immune system (6). A study found that people who take lozenges containing zinc can shorten the duration of the cold infection.

Your body also needs zinc for production, functioning, and repair of DNA. You can get zinc from a range of food sources, including beans, nuts, wheat germ, dairy products, and bread. Avoid oysters, which are the best source of zinc as you may contract a foodborne illness. This could prove to be dangerous for you and your growing baby.

With proper hydration and rest, you will feel better within a few days. If your cold symptoms don’t abate in a two to three days, or you feel you are getting a secondary infection, consult your doctor right away. Typically, a little bit of R&R is more than enough to get you back on your feet.

If you have got any more tips or remedies for cold, do share them with us.

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Burcu Saygan Karamürsel is a board certified obstetrics - gynecology and maternal-fetal medicine specialist working in Ankara,Turkey. A graduate from Hacettepe University Medical School, she has also attended a fellowship programme at Bonn University Hospital, Perinatology Department. Currently, she runs her own private clinic in Ankara and contributes to several newspapers’ online health columns and websites. She is specialized in... more

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