Editor’s Note: We at POPSUGAR recognize that people of many genders and identities have vaginas and uteruses and experience pregnancy, not just those who are women. For this particular story, we interviewed experts who generally referred to people with vaginas and uteruses who experience pregnancy as women.
Pregnancy has a myriad of common symptoms – sore back, food cravings, morning sickness – but sometimes you get symptoms that you don’t realize are caused by pregnancy. Chronic cough is one of those! If you find yourself coughing throughout your pregnancy, despite not being sick, then you may have pregnancy-related chronic cough.
The American Pregnancy Association says that your immune system is likely to change during pregnancy, meaning it’s harder to fight off the germs that could lead to a lingering cough. POPSUGAR talked to several doctors to find out more about chronic cough and how pregnant people can treat it.
Why Am I Coughing So Much During Pregnancy?
When you are coughing a lot during pregnancy, it could be because you’re subject to more allergy infections and viral illnesses. “Various physiological changes occur during pregnancy to accommodate the growing fetus,” Peace Nwegbo-Banks, MD, OB-GYN at Serenity Women’s Health & MedSpa in Pearland, Texas, told POPSUGAR. “Pregnant women have a heightened cough sensitivity, and it has been suggested that this may help protect moms from choking.”
It’s also possible that your pregnancy is depressing your immune system, said Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, FACOG, double board-certified in OB-GYN and maternal fetal medicine, and director of Perinatal Services at NYC Health and Hospitals/Lincoln. “Thus, the body becomes more sensitive to allergens,” she told POPSUGAR.
There are other factors that can cause a chronic cough for pregnant women, according to Lauren Demosthenes, MD, senior medical director with Babyscripts. “During pregnancy, the mucous membranes in the nose are a bit more engorged – this is because there is increased blood and plasma volume and also because of some hormonal changes,” she told POPSUGAR. “For this reason, during pregnancy, women may notice more problems with a ‘runny or congested’ nose. Because of this, this nasal drip can irritate cough receptors leading to more of a chronic and annoying cough.” Dr. Demosthenes also noted that former smokers may have a reduced cough reflux, leading to more coughing during pregnancy. However, she noted, “We still recommend not smoking during pregnancy.”
However, if you’re at all concerned, it’s important to speak to your doctor, Dr. Nwegbo-Banks said, to rule out any dangerous causes.
How Can I Treat Chronic Cough During Pregnancy?
Understanding what causes chronic cough (like a runny nose or acid reflux) can help “most women tolerate this nuisance,” said Dr. Demosthenes.
Treatment will of course depend on the cause of the cough. “For allergy symptoms, antihistamines are recommended,” Dr. Nwegbo-Banks told POPSUGAR. “In those with post-nasal drip, saline nasal spray/irrigator can be beneficial. For colds, cough drops or products containing benzonatate (i.e. tessalon perles) or Robitussin are safe and helpful. Products containing the expectorant guaifenesin (like Mucinex) can help with congestion. If the cause of the cough is an infectious source, antibiotics or antivirals may be needed for treatment and the patient should see their doctor.”
Of course, you should always check with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter or prescription medication when pregnant.
When Should I Be Concerned About Chronic Cough During Pregnancy?
“Chronic cough should be evaluated by a physician as that may portend to something more serious such as bronchitis, pneumonia, or TB,” said Dr. Gaither. While coughing itself isn’t a big concern, there are a few things both our experts said to look out for: Fever, productive mucus, blood in the mucus, severe shortness of breath or chest pain, or change in mental status. If these symptoms occur, call your doctor.