A woman always aims to stay healthy during her pregnancy, but what can she do if she thinks she has a cold or the flu?
Is it dangerous to have a cold or the flu during pregnancy?
When a cold strikes during pregnancy, it does not really represent a health risk to the mother or her unborn child, even if it momentarily compromises the well-being and quality of life of the person affected by it.
The same cannot be said about the flu (or influenza), which carries serious complication risks throughout pregnancy. These complications may result in respiratory problems (even pneumonia) and lead to hospitalization. In the worst cases, there is a risk of premature labour and even the death of the mother or foetus.
Canadian public health authorities recommend that all pregnant women be vaccinated against influenza, regardless of the stage of their pregnancy, to prepare for flu season (starting in October and November). Additionally, it is advisable to treat pregnant women with antiviral medication if they have the flu. You should see a doctor if you think you have the flu.
Both a cold and the flu are contagious viral respiratory infections. Therefore, they cannot be treated with an antibiotic, unless they are accompanied by a bacterial infection such as otitis, sinusitis, bronchitis or pneumonia.
The best way to prevent these types of infections is to adopt effective hygiene measures, such as frequent handwashing and physical distancing. It is also important to avoid close contact with infected persons.
How can you tell if you have a cold or the flu during pregnancy?
The most common cold symptoms include:
- runny nose
- nasal congestion
- sore throat
- dry or wet cough
Typical symptoms of the flu include:
- a bad cough
- general malaise
- muscle pain/soreness
- sore throat
These symptoms are transient and of a variable nature and intensity. They generally resolve themselves within 10 to 14 days.
Treatment of a cold and the flu is based above all on rest and symptom relief.
What are the medications and safety measures for a pregnant woman and her foetus?
Generally speaking, it can be said that the broad principles for treating a cold and the flu apply whether or not a woman is pregnant. However, the drug choice to ease symptoms can sometimes differ and requires greater caution.
First, a salt water solution should be used to relieve sneezing, runny nose and nasal congestion. There are various formulations available at the pharmacy. If this measure is ineffective, the use of certain over-the-counter medications may be considered. If this occurs, be sure to ask your pharmacist for advice.
Unless otherwise instructed by a healthcare professional, acetaminophen can be used to ease muscle pain, sore throat, headache or fever. Do not take other medications to ease symptoms unless recommended by a doctor or pharmacist. Gargling with salt water may help to ease a sore throat.
Dextromethorphan is a good choice to ease a dry and unpleasant cough. Some cough syrups contain an expectorant (a product that liquifies secretions and promotes their elimination) called guaifenesin. This medication is considered safe, but its effectiveness has not been proven. In this context, it may be better to avoid it altogether.
If you are pregnant, always speak to your pharmacist (or doctor) before taking any medication, including natural health products and supplements. Since many products contain several ingredients, vigilance is key.
What else can I do to ease my symptoms and recover?
- Get plenty of rest and sleep sufficiently.
- Drink plenty of fluids, such as cool water.
- Take a lukewarm bath if you have a fever.
- Wear loose-fitting and comfortable clothes.
- Use a humidifier, especially in your bedroom, if the air in your home is too dry.
When should I see a doctor?
You should see a doctor promptly if you present the following signs and symptoms:
- fever (≥ 38.5°C) that persists despite taking acetaminophen
- fever that lasts longer than 24 hours
- difficulty breathing
- pain or pressure in the chest or back
- nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or significant headaches
- signs of dehydration
- any other unusual or alarming symptom
Pharmacists are accessible and attentive healthcare professionals. Don’t hesitate to speak to them about any issues you may experience during your pregnancy.