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How to Relieve a Sore Throat in Pregnancy

Dealing with a sore throat is even less fun when you’ve got a baby bump to tend to. Here’s what to do.
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Published April 2, 2024
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If you’re expecting, you’re likely already dealing with a lot of unpleasant symptoms—so having a sore throat while pregnant is even less ideal than it would usually be. Still, it happens. “Pregnant women have sore throats just like everyone else,” says Omid Mehdizadeh, MD, an otolaryngologist and laryngologist at Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, California.

Rest assured that in most cases, a sore throat won’t impact baby and can be treated with home remedies. That said, it’s important to know when to flag the symptom for your doctor. Here’s what experts say you need to know about having a sore throat when pregnant.

What Causes a Sore Throat During Pregnancy?

A lot of things can cause a sore throat during pregnancy. “The causes are similar to those in non-pregnant patients,” says Phillip Purnell, MD, PhD, division chief of laryngology and professional voice at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “The most common cause is a viral infection like the common cold or flu. Bacterial infection, such as strep throat, is also possible.”

Being pregnant also puts you at a higher risk of developing acid reflux, a condition that happens when stomach acid repeatedly flows back into the tube connecting your mouth and stomach—and that can cause a sore throat. “Hormonal changes and the baby pushing onto the abdomen make pregnant women particularly prone to [the condition],” Mehdizadeh says. In fact, research shows that up to 80 percent of expectant moms have reflux.

It’s also possible to get a sore throat in pregnancy from allergies, says Christine Greves, MD, an ob-gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies in Orlando, Florida.

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Symptoms of a Sore Throat in Pregnancy

Symptoms of a sore throat in pregnancy generally feel the same as those you’d have if you weren’t pregnant, Purnell says. Those can include:

  • Throat pain or discomfort
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Hoarseness

Of course, there are different causes of a sore throat during pregnancy and the symptoms of each can be slightly different. Here’s a breakdown.

  • Viruses, including COVID-19. These symptoms are usually linked with viral causes of a sore throat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They include cough, runny nose, hoarseness and pink eye.

  • Acid reflux. Acid reflux, aka gastrointestinal reflux, can cause the following symptoms, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK): heartburn, regurgitation, chest pain, nausea, problems swallowing, chronic cough and hoarseness.

  • Seasonal allergies. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of seasonal allergies (aka hay fever) can include a runny nose and nasal stuffiness, watery and itchy eyes, sneezing, cough, an itchy nose or throat, postnasal drip, bruised-appearing skin under the eyes and extreme fatigue.

  • Strep throat. The CDC says that symptoms of strep throat can include fever, pain when swallowing, a sore throat that starts quickly and may look red, red and swollen tonsils, white patches or streaks of pus on the tonsils, tiny red spots on the roof of the mouth and swollen lymph nodes in the front of the neck.

It can be challenging to distinguish between the symptoms of a virus, allergies and strep throat, Purnell says. “In general, viral infections are accompanied by cough, fever and body aches,” he says. “Allergies can cause itchy eyes, sneezing and congestion, usually without fever. Strep throat presents with a severe sore throat, fever and swollen lymph nodes.” Strep throat usually doesn’t cause body aches or a runny nose, Mehdizadeh adds. “Those are generally associated with viruses and allergies,” he says.

Reflux is more likely to cause pain after eating: “If you find that you have a sore throat in the morning and every morning, it’s less likely to be reflux,” explains Greves.

How to Treat a Sore Throat While Pregnant

A sore throat during pregnancy can be the worst. Thankfully, there are plenty of treatments available. In general, Greves recommends treating your sore throat with home remedies before using medication. Below, the most common ones experts recommend.

How to treat a sore throat from viruses and allergies

  • Stay hydrated. “It’s important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, including warm, non-caffeinated beverages and soups,” Purnell says. This helps give your body the fluids and electrolytes it needs to fight off an illness.
  • Gargle with warm salt water. This can help ease pain, Greves says. (Try putting half a teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of warm water to get started.)
  • Use sore throat lozenges. Sucking on lozenges can help temporarily ease throat pain, Greves says.

How to treat a sore throat from reflux

  • Sleep with your head elevated. This can also help if you suspect your sore throat is due to post-nasal drip, Greves says.
  • Avoid eating before bed. Purnell suggests that you stop eating two hours before you head to bed if you suspect you’re dealing with reflux.
  • Minimize trigger foods. Fatty foods, spicy foods, chocolate and caffeine can exacerbate reflux, Purnell says. Minimizing or avoiding these foods can help.

Safe Medication for Sore Throat While Pregnant

You might wonder: What can I take for a sore throat while pregnant? Purnell recommends checking in with your ob-gyn or primary-care doctor before taking over-the-counter medication. However, experts say the following medications are generally safe to use for a sore throat during pregnancy:

  • Acetaminophen. Acetaminophen medications, such as Tylenol, can help relieve pain and reduce your fever if you have a virus, Greves says.
  • Famotidine. Famotidine, contained in medicines like Pepcid, is used to treat acid reflux and is considered safe during pregnancy, Mehdizadeh says.
  • Calcium carbonate. If you suspect you have acid reflux, taking a calcium carbonate tablet like Tums could help soothe the cause of your sore throat, Greves says.
  • Antihistamines. Antihistamines (such as Benadryl) are generally considered safe during pregnancy, says Mehdizadeh.
  • Sprays and lozenges. Sprays or lozenges that contain benzocaine, a local anesthetic, can help numb the throat, according to UT Southwestern Medical Center. Menthol and phenol, such as Chloraseptic, are antiseptics that also help soothe throat discomfort.

When to Reach out to Your Doctor About Sore Throat in Pregnancy

Pain that lasts for more than five to seven days, trouble swallowing, difficulty taking in food or liquids or any symptoms that keep you from doing your daily activities should prompt you to call your doctor, Mehdizadeh says. Purnell also says to reach out if you have a fever of 100.4 Fahrenheit or above, swollen lymph nodes, white patches on your tonsils or symptoms of dehydration.

If your throat pain is intense, you’ll want to get tested for strep throat. “If it feels like one of the worst sore throats of your life, come in and get checked for strep,” Greves says. Your doctor can prescribe you specific pregnancy-safe antibiotics to help clear things up.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

Sources

Christine Greves, MD, FACOG, is an ob-gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies in Orlando, Florida. She received her medical degree from the University of South Florida College of Medicine.

Omid Mehdizadeh, MD, is an otolaryngologist and laryngologist at Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, California. He received his medical degree from the University of California at Davis School of Medicine.

Phillip Purnell, MD, PhD, is the division chief of laryngology and professional voice at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

Canada Family Physician, Treatment of Heartburn and Acid Reflux Associated with Nausea and Vomiting During Pregnancy, February 2010

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Sore Throat, October 2021

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Symptoms & Causes of GER & GERD, July 2020

Mayo Clinic, Hay Fever, July 2022

Pepcid, Frequently Asked Questions

UT Southwestern Medical Center, Which Over-the-Counter Cold Medications Are Safe During Pregnancy?, January 2018

Mayo Clinic, Is It Safe to Take Antibiotics During Pregnancy?, August 2022

Learn how we ensure the accuracy of our content through our editorial and medical review process.

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