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 try and 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 so that you can make the most informed choice about cough drop use during pregnancy.
When Cough Drops Are Useful
Though they’re referred to as “cough drops,” those soothing discs treat more symptoms than just a hacking cough. Also referred to as “throat lozenges,” they can treat a number of symptoms, including:
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 the specific ailment that you have — 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, and you may wonder whether they’re safe to take during pregnancy. The general medical consensus is that cough drops are perfectly fine to use to soothe a sore throat while pregnant, and that they’re unlikely to cause harm to you or your baby (source).
Especially 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 ingredients:
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 as an ingredient in cough drops as it can help to numb a sore throat.
Eucalyptus is a natural ingredient that acts as an antiseptic, meaning it can kill bacteria (source). It also acts as an expectorant, which means it helps to thin and loosen mucus.
Eucalyptus can also help to relieve congestion, so it is often used in cough drops in conjunction with menthol in multi-purpose cough drops to help relieve cold symptoms and soothe sore throats.
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.
Zinc is an important nutrient when it comes to supporting your immune system, but you also want to make sure you aren’t overdoing it.
Pectin helps to reduce swelling or irritation, and is a natural ingredient found in fruits. It is most commonly found in fruit-flavored, non-menthol cough drops.
Pectin was previously used as an ingredient in anti-diarrheal medicine, but was banned as it was found to be ineffective for that purpose.
Dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant, so it’s helpful if you have a persistent cough or an ongoing tickle in your throat. However, the research has been conflicted as to whether it is appropriate for pregnant women to take as it was linked to birth defects in chickens (source).
When you suck on a cough drop containing menthol, you get a cooling sensation on your throat and throughout your nasal passages. It also helps to numb the throat and relieve congestion.
Menthol is commonly used during pregnancy, but medical providers tend to disagree as to whether it’s completely safe or not as it has not been widely studied (source).
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.
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 — there are other non-medicated things you can do to try and relieve your sore throat, including:
- Gargling with salt water: Mix one-half teaspoon 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.
- Drinking 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.
- Drinking 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 recently published indicates that unpasteurized honey in pregnancy is likely safe. Botulism in adults from honey is exceedingly rare in women who don’t have gastrointestinal disease. In addition, the botulinum toxin does not cross the placenta (source).
Editor's Note:Christine Traxler, MD, BS
Additional Symptoms To Watch For
There are a few indicators your sore throat could be a symptom of a more serious disease that needs medical treatment. If you experience any of the following symptoms, head to your doctor for a more thorough evaluation:
- Fever above 100 degrees.
- 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 had seemed to be getting better, but suddenly worsens.
It’s so easy to be confused about what’s safe and what’s not during pregnancy, especially when the health of your baby 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.
It’s always a good idea to speak with your doctor if you have 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.
If you figure out what you can take while you’re still well, you won’t have to worry about scouring the internet when you’re sick and just wanting relief.
What cough drops are working best for your pregnancy? Tell us in the comments below, and share with a mama who needs to know.