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Cough in Pregnancy: Causes and Treatment

Doctors Explain Why You Might Get a Chronic Cough While Pregnant

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 and who experience pregnancy as women.

While pregnant, a person may experience a myriad of common symptoms, including a sore back, sporadic food cravings, and extreme morning sickness. While these symptoms are expected to occur throughout your pregnancy, sometimes you start experiencing things that you don't expect — like pregnancy cough.

That's right: chronic cough is a surprising, but not rare, symptom of pregnancy. Of course, given that we're still in a pandemic, it's natural that you might be nervous if you develop a cough during pregnancy. And the American Pregnancy Association says that your immune system is likely to change during pregnancy, making it harder for your body to fight off the types of germs that can make you cough, which is why it's so essential to take your doctor's advice about any vaccinations or other safety precautions you may want to take. But if you find yourself coughing while pregnant yet everything else about you points to a clean bill of health, then you may have a classic case of pregnancy cough.

Though this development may be a little troublesome, especially when coupled with constant nausea and other various unpleasant symptoms, the chronic pregnancy cough can be dealt with. So if you're searching for what to take to treat this peculiar pregnancy symptom, look no further — POPSUGAR talked to several doctors to find out more about chronic cough and how pregnant people can treat it.

Additional reporting by Melissa Santoyo

Why Am I Coughing So Much During Pregnancy?

"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, TX, tells POPSUGAR. "Pregnant women have a heightened cough sensitivity, and it has been suggested that this may help protect moms from choking." Incredible.

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 tells POPSUGAR.

There are other factors that can cause excessive coughing in 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 tells POPSUGAR. "For this reason, during pregnancy, women may notice more problems with a 'runny or congested' nose. This nasal drip can irritate cough receptors leading to more of a chronic and annoying cough."

Additionally, a 2016 study suggests that most cases of pregnancy cough are related to gastroesophageal reflux, aka heartburn. It's true that heartburn is a common pregnancy complaint, and the irritation it leads to in the back of your throat can cause coughing.

If you're at all concerned, it's important to speak to your doctor to rule out any dangerous causes, Dr. Nwegbo-Banks says.

How Can I Treat Chronic Cough During Pregnancy?

Understanding what causes chronic cough during pregnancy (like a runny nose or acid reflux) can help "most women tolerate this nuisance," Dr. Demosthenes says.

Treatment will depend on the cause of the cough. "For allergy symptoms, antihistamines are recommended," Dr. Nwegbo-Banks tells POPSUGAR. "In those with postnasal 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," Dr. Gaither says. While coughing itself isn't a big concern, there are a few things both our experts said to look out for, including 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.

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