Cold During Pregnancy Causes, Symptoms, Medication And Remedies

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Colds or common colds are self-limiting respiratory illnesses caused by several viruses. Although more than 200 viruses can cause common colds, rhinoviruses are the most common. These respiratory viruses are spread from person to person through close contact or from air droplets. Colds are more common in winter and fall than in other seasons (1). Respiratory syncytial virus, human metapneumovirus, common human coronavirus, adenovirus, human parainfluenza viruses, etc., are also frequent causes of colds (2).

Pregnant women are more susceptible to colds and their complications due to immunogenic changes in pregnancy. Use cold medications labeled safe during pregnancy since many medications contain pregnancy safe and unsafe ingredients.

Read this post to know about the causes, risk factors, symptoms, treatment, and prevention of colds during pregnancy.

What Are The Symptoms Of A Cold During Pregnancy?

Colds in pregnancy have the same symptoms as other times. You may develop the following symptoms within one to three days of contracting the cold virus (2):

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Runny nose
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Nasal congestion
  • Mild fever
  • Slight body aches

What Are The Complications Of Colds During Pregnancy?

A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the colds and flu with fever in the preconception period or the early pregnancy is linked to birth defects. However, women with colds and no fever were not found to have this risk (3).

According to this study, common cold and flu with fever just before and during early pregnancy was associated with the following birth defects in the babies (3):

  • Anencephaly is the absence of parts of the skull and brain
  • Encephalocele is a sac-like protrusion of the brain
  • Spina bifida is incomplete closing of the spine
  • Cleft lip with or without cleft palate
  • Gastroschisis is a protrusion of the intestines through the defect in the abdominal wall
  • Limb reduction defects is
  • missing (absence) of limbs or shorter limb
  • Colonic stenosis or atresia is a missing or obstructed part of colon
  • Bilateral renal hypoplasia or agenesis is the absence or underdeveloped kidneys on both sides

Other complications of colds may include (4):

  • Acute middle ear infection (otitis media), which may occur if the virus enters the space behind the eardrum. Earache and fever with the common cold are typical symptoms of ear infection.
  • Acute sinusitis is swelling, pain, and inflammation of sinuses caused by colds that don’t resolve for a longer time.
  • Asthma can be triggered or worsened by colds, and it is associated with wheezing and severe breathing troubles.

Women who are planning pregnancy and are already pregnant should avoid contracting colds. You may also seek medical care if the symptoms do not improve or you have a fever to avoid these complications.

When To Seek Medical Care?

Although colds can be treated at home, it is recommended to seek medical care in the following situations (5):

  • Chest pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Breathing troubles
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Any symptoms not improving within a week or two

What Are Safe Cold Medications During Pregnancy?

Many brands supply over-the-counter (OTC) cold medications. The ingredients are similar, and these medications can be available in different combinations. You may seek a doctor’s advice to choose the best combinations based on your symptoms and weeks of pregnancy. It is recommended to read the manufacturer’s label and ensure the cold medicine is safe to use during pregnancy.
The following medicines may help relieve cold symptoms (6) (7):

  • Analgesic such as acetaminophen (paracetamol) is not associated with birth defects and other issues if taken anytime during pregnancy. Ibuprofen is used with caution in the first and second trimesters of pregnancy.
  • Cough suppressants such as dextromethorphan (DM) are not associated with birth defects.
  • Some OTC decongestants are safe in pregnancy. However, their overuse can cause health problems. Inhaled decongestants such as xylometazoline and oxymetazoline are not shown to cause birth defects or alter maternal and fetal circulation after a single dose. Overuse is cautioned since the extent of systemic absorption and the placental transfer of these drugs are unknown.
  • Antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and chlorpheniramine are present in cold medications and are not shown to cause malformations. However, they may cause drowsiness. High doses of diphenhydramine can cause oxytocin-like effects.
  • Some expectorants are safe in pregnancy. These medications help clear the mucus. Expectorant such as guaifenesin is found in many cold medications and is not associated with the risk of malformations in several studies.

Although these medications are safe to use for short periods, it is not recommended for extended periods. You may seek medical care and get prescriptions appropriate for your symptoms.

What Cold Medications Should You Avoid During Pregnancy?

You may avoid the following cold medications during pregnancy (6) (7):

  • Oral and topical (nose) decongestants such as pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine can be associated with birth defects in early pregnancy. While a few studies have not shown any risks to oral decongestants in pregnancy, these medications are also found in OTC cold medications.
  • Analgesics such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are associated with increasing the risk of spontaneous abortion (SAB). However, it is not shown to cause intrauterine growth retardation, preterm delivery, and congenital abnormalities if taken just before or during the early weeks of pregnancy.
  • Analgesics such as aspirin or acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) are associated with delivery complications and adverse effects in babies.
  • NSAIDs and ASA in the third trimester can lead to premature closure of ductus arteriosus in babies, and it should be avoided.

What Home Remedies Can You Try During Pregnancy?

You may try cold remedies at home to ease symptoms. However, it is necessary to take medications for symptoms such as fever since a high temperature can harm the baby.
The following home remedies may help ease cold symptoms (8):

  • Drink more fluids. Clear water, diluter juice, warm lemon water, and clear broth or soups help stay hydrated. Avoid too many caffeinated beverages.
  • Sip warm liquids such as soups, chicken broth, tea, and warm apple juice help to soothe the sore throat and nasal congestion.
  • Drink honey with warm water or hot tea to reduce coughs.
  • Get enough rest and sleep for a speedy recovery.
  • Keep the room warm and not dry to ease congestion and coughing. A vaporizer or cool-mist humidifier helps moisten the room air. Ensure to clean the humidifier on time to prevent molds and bacterial growth.
  • Gargle with saltwater to soothe the throat. You may use ¼ to ½ teaspoon of table salt in four to eight ounces of warm water (120 to 240ml).
  • Use lozenges, hard candy, or ice chips to help reduce coughs.
  • Use saline nasal sprays or nasal drops to ease nasal congestion. This may moisten and loosen the nasal passages.

Alternative medicines such as vitamin C, echinacea, and zinc may lessen the duration of symptoms. However, they are not shown to prevent the infection, and sufficient data is not available on their safety in pregnancy. You may consult your doctor to know the safety of alternative and herbal cold remedies during pregnancy.

How To Prevent Colds During Pregnancy?

Although it is not possible to prevent occasional colds during pregnancy, the following ways may help reduce the risk of frequent colds:

  • Washing hands often is the best way to prevent colds during pregnancy. You may wash your hands with soap and water or rub alcohol-based sanitizer with 60% alcohol.
  • Avoiding close contact with sick people and ensuring that the family members with colds maintain cough and sneeze etiquette at home.

You may also do the same to prevent the spread of cold viruses to others (5). There are no vaccinations or approved medications to prevent colds during pregnancy.

What Is The Difference Between A Cold And Flu?

Flu is a respiratory infection caused by influenza viruses. Both common colds and flu are contagious respiratory illnesses that can spread from an infected person to others. The transmission, symptoms, and season of illness can be the same for common cold and flu. However, the symptoms of flu are often worse than those of cold (9).

The table below may help you understand whether you have flu or cold:

Cold During Pregnancy: Causes, Symptoms, Medication And Remedies

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

CDC recommends yearly flu shots (annual influenza vaccine) to help prevent flu. Antiviral drugs are often prescribed to treat flu since there is a risk of serious complications. However, colds do not cause serious health issues and are treated symptomatically.

Cold in pregnancy can be harmless if there is no fever. You may seek doctors’ advice before using any OTC cold remedies and herbal remedies during pregnancy. Do not delay medical care if the cold symptoms are severe or do not improve within a week or two. You may practice hand and respiratory hygiene to avoid respiratory infections during pregnancy.


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Dr Bisny T. Joseph

Dr. Bisny T. Joseph is a Georgian Board-certified physician. She has completed her professional graduate degree as a medical doctor from Tbilisi State Medical University, Georgia. She has 3+ years of experience in various sectors of medical affairs as a physician, medical reviewer, medical writer, health coach, and Q&A expert. Her interest in digital medical education and patient education made... more