The tragedy of the common cold in pregnancy

4 days ago I began to feel that annoying throat tickle, the portent of infectious processes to come. I should know, having just completed residency. My training put me through a new permutation of cold once every two weeks. But whereas I was able previously to load up on symptomatic medications, this time I am truly hesitating.

First of all, there’s nothing really to cure the common cold but time, but having mild asthma I do try to manage it appropriately. I am laying off asthma meds during pregnancy per doctor recommendations.  Preventative treatment probably shouldn’t do any major harm, but better safe now than sorry later. But during these colds and tough seasonal issues I do start up again for fear of having a cough for the next three months.

Here are some things I recommend to the pregnant woman, which may be surprising coming from a Western-trained pediatrician.  But we do not all dispense antibiotics at the drop of a hat. Pediatricians are becoming much more judicious in their use of medications and these days we completely avoid the use of over the counter cough and cold preparations. Truly, when was the last time that an expectorant cough syrup (Robitussin DM or the like) really made a difference overall in the experience of the cold? By the way, any recommendations I give or brand names I list are just what I have bought – you can make your own choices. I disclose that I have no financial allegiance to any pharmaceutical companies.  So with no further ado, my list:

1. Nasal saline spray – nothing truly magical but it loosens mucus and just as it is great for baby, it works well to humidify and soothe our own nostrils.

2. Warm salt-water gargling – this wasn’t so helpful the first few days though it is supposed to feel good on a sore throat, but now that I am coughing it is definitely soothing.  I usually heat up a cup of filter water in the microwave for 30 seconds or so, toss in just a pinch of salt.  Too much and it becomes tough to gargle.

3. Neti Pot – Haven’t had to use it yet with this cold but I anticipate the need.  This has to be used judiciously as well because if you overdo it on the Neti pot you will risk causing further inflammation around the sinuses. The nice thing about the Neti pot is that the water goes up towards your sinuses and removes mucus that is clogging  the openings and then passes right back through.  I would mix my own concoction but I have found that the “Neilmed” isotonic solution works very well. I’m sure there is nothing earth shattering about it, but when I have mixed my own solutions of salt, baking soda, and water (the basic components of these solutions) I get more irritation than good.

4. Humidification – This always makes me feel better and I am pretty sure I will have to start this today.  I like inhaling steam from water that I heat on the stove – this is really soothing for your nose and throat. I use a towel to cover my head to keep the steam in.  The caveat here is that you must be careful to avoid spills. You do not want to experience any hot water burns so if there are children around, please be careful!  Half the burns I saw in residency came from the accidental spillage of hot tea!

5. Lemon/peach drops sometimes with menthol – in a pinch when I am really not feeling good I will take a cough drop, especially when out and about.  I try not to overdo it because again I don’t want to overexpose my body to strange chemical humors.  I found that when I took lots and lots of cough drops as a child my cough didn’t go away and I just got somewhat dependent on the flavor of the cough drops.  Not a good idea for any time in life, especially pregnancy!

6. Drinking warm water with honey and lemon – always soothing.  Sometimes I switch this out with ice cold water – hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!!!

Hope this helps others who are suffering as I am!

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