Facebook
When you shop through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. This educational content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice.

Are Cough Drops Safe During Pregnancy?

Medically Reviewed by Mary Sweeney, BSN, RN, CEN
Updated
What throat lozenges are safe to use during pregnancy?

Are you pregnant and battling a constant sore throat? Or are you fighting a nasty bug and seeking some relief but aren’t sure whether it’s okay to use cough drops?

With all the information out there, it can be confusing to navigate the conflicting advice about what types of medications are safe for use during pregnancy and which ones are best to avoid.

We’ve researched everything you need to know to make the most informed choice about using cough drops during pregnancy.


When Cough Drops Are Useful

Though referred to as “cough drops,” those soothing discs treat more symptoms than just a hacking cough. They are also referred to as “throat lozenges” and can treat many of these symptoms:

When purchasing cough drops, don’t just grab one off the shelf based on flavor. Instead, read the label to make sure it’s treating your specific symptoms and that you’re not overmedicating and buying something with ingredients to treat symptoms you don’t have.

Are Cough Drops Safe During Pregnancy?

Cough drops may look and taste like candy, but many contain medicated active ingredients. You may wonder which cough drop ingredients are safe to take during pregnancy. The general medical consensus is that cough drops are perfectly fine to use to soothe a sore throat during pregnancy and are unlikely to cause harm to you or your baby (1).

Since cough drops are used short-term to ease symptoms of a typically time-limited ailment like a cold or sinus infection, the risk to your baby is minimal.

However, as mentioned above, if you’re concerned about overmedicating — or want to avoid as many medications as possible — choose a lozenge that treats only the symptoms you’re experiencing. That means staying away from all-in-one cough drops designed to treat several cold symptoms.

Active Ingredients Present in Cough Drops

The makeup of cough drops varies widely between brands, but the active ingredient is most likely one of the following:

Benzocaine

Benzocaine is an anesthetic, meaning it helps to numb an area. It is commonly used in topical numbing agents, teething gels, or over-the-counter tooth pain remedies.

It can be effective in cough drops to help numb a sore throat.

The Bottom Line

Benzocaine does not enter the bloodstream, so it is safe to take while pregnant as your baby will not be exposed (2).

Eucalyptus Oil

Eucalyptus is a natural ingredient that acts as an antiseptic, meaning it can kill bacteria (3). It also acts as an expectorant, helping to thin and loosen mucus.

Eucalyptus can also help relieve congestion, so it is often used in conjunction with menthol in multi-purpose cough drops to help relieve cold symptoms and soothe sore throats.

The Bottom Line

While you may have heard that eucalyptus isn’t advised for use as an essential oil while pregnant, it is most likely fine in cough drops. The amount is much smaller than if you continually diffuse the oil or spread it directly on your skin.

Zinc Gluconate Glycine

Cough drops containing this ingredient are typically marketed as shortening the common cold. While medical evidence is mixed as to whether a mega-dose of zinc can boost immunity and ward off a virus, many swear by this remedy to help them reduce the severity of a cold or to feel better faster.

Your prenatal vitamin likely already contains zinc, so consider that when contemplating a zinc lozenge.

The Bottom Line

Women should not exceed 40 mg of zinc per day (4). Zinc lozenges generally contain about 13 milligrams of zinc per tablet, so limit yourself to 2 to 3 per day when you’re pregnant.

Zinc is an important nutrient in supporting your immune system, but you also want to make sure you don’t overdo it.

Pectin

Pectin helps to reduce swelling or irritation and is a natural ingredient found in many fruits. It is most commonly found in fruit-flavored, non-menthol cough drops.

The Bottom Line

Pectin is largely considered safe for use during pregnancy.

Dextromethorphan

Dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant, so it helps you if you have a persistent cough or a constant tickle in your throat. However, the research is conflicted about whether it is appropriate for pregnant women to take as it has been linked to birth defects in chickens (5).

Recent research appears to indicate no adverse effects on human pregnancy; however, if you are concerned about potential harm, find a lozenge that does not contain the drug.

The Bottom Line

If a cough does not accompany your sore throat, avoid dextromethorphan to be safe.

Menthol

When you suck on a cough drop containing menthol, you get a cooling sensation in your throat and throughout your nasal passages. It also helps numb the throat and relieve congestion.

Menthol is commonly used during pregnancy, but medical providers tend to disagree on whether it’s completely safe or not as it has not been widely studied (6).

The Bottom Line

If you are concerned, avoid menthol. And definitely skip it if you don’t have a stuffy nose, as there’s no need to overmedicate.

Peppermint Oil

Peppermint oil acts similarly to menthol when used in a throat lozenge. And like eucalyptus oil, it’s not recommended for direct application on the skin during pregnancy, but the small volumes in which it’s consumed in a cough drop are unlikely to cause any issues with your baby.

The Bottom Line

In small doses, it won’t hurt you or your baby. However, if you have any concerns, skip peppermint oil — especially if you don’t have nasal congestion.

Natural Sore Throat Remedies for Pregnancy

If you’re on the fence about taking cough drops while pregnant — or if they’re just not doing the trick — these are some other methods you can try to relieve your sore throat:

natural sore throat remedies during pregnancy

  • Gargle with salt water: Mix one-half teaspoon of salt in a cup of hot water, gargle for about one minute, and spit it out. This can help loosen mucus, soothe your throat, and even kill bacteria.
  • Drink water to stay hydrated: Dehydration not only keeps irritating mucus extra thick but can also result in a dry, itchy throat. Drink plenty of water, especially if your sore throat is persistent.
  • Drink tea with honey and lemon: If you have trouble drinking cold liquids because of your sore throat, drink decaffeinated tea with a squeeze of lemon and a tablespoon of honey. Though you may be tempted to use raw honey because of its antiviral properties, it’s safest to choose regular, pasteurized honey to avoid exposing your baby to potentially harmful bacteria.

Evidence-based research indicates that unpasteurized honey in pregnancy is likely safe. Botulism in adults from honey is exceedingly rare in women who don’t have gastrointestinal diseases. In addition, the botulinum toxin does not cross the placenta (7).

Additional Symptoms To Watch For

There are a few indicators your sore throat could be a symptom of a more severe illness that requires medical treatment. If you experience any of the following symptoms, head to your doctor for a more thorough evaluation:

  • Fever above 100 degrees.
  • Rash.
  • A sore throat that has persisted for more than 3-4 days.
  • Red or white spots in the back of the throat.
  • Sore throat and cold that improved but then suddenly worsened.

The Bottom Line

It’s so easy to be confused about what’s safe and what’s not during pregnancy, especially because your baby’s health is so important. It’s always good to exercise caution and use medication sparingly, but the consensus in the medical community is that most cough drops are entirely safe.

Playing It Safe

If you want to be abundantly cautious, you may want to consider skipping lozenges that contain the ingredients dextromethorphan, menthol, or peppermint oil.

Speak with your doctor if you have any concerns. And if you’re early in your pregnancy, ask your doctor what they recommend you take if you come down with a sore throat.

Feedback: Was This Article Helpful?
Thank You For Your Feedback!
Thank You For Your Feedback!
What Did You Like?
What Went Wrong?
Headshot of Mary Sweeney, BSN, RN, CEN

Medically Reviewed by

Mary Sweeney, BSN, RN, CEN

Mary Sweeney, BSN, RN, CEN is an oncology nurse navigator and freelance medical writer. Mary has 4 years of experience as an officer in the Navy Nurse Corps. including emergency/trauma, post-anesthesia, and deployment medicine.