over-the-counter decongestants are available. The
following are a few examples:
Decongestants are available as nasal sprays, liquids, and
In some states, medicines containing pseudoephedrine (such
as Sudafed) are kept behind the pharmacist's counter or require a prescription.
You may need to ask the pharmacist for it or have a prescription from your
doctor to buy the medicine.
How It Works
Decongestants narrow blood vessels,
reducing the blood supply to nasal
mucous membranes. This reduces stuffy and runny noses.
Pill decongestants narrow blood vessels not
only in the nose but also in other parts of the body, which can cause side
effects such as
high blood pressure and nervousness.
Nasal decongestant sprays narrow blood vessels only in the nose
and not in other parts of the body, so they rarely cause the side effects that
pill decongestants do.
You can use nasal decongestant sprays only
for a few days. If you use them longer than this, your nasal congestion may get
worse (rebound congestion). Using a nasal decongestant
continually to avoid rebound congestion can result in dependence on the
Nasal spray decongestants work
within about 10 minutes and may provide relief for up to 12 hours. Pill
decongestants work within 30 minutes and may provide relief for up to 6 hours.
Decongestants do not help sneezing or itching. But some pill
decongestants are combined with an
antihistamine to help sneezing and itching. Examples
include Allerest and Actifed. These medicines may not be safe for young children or for people who have certain health problems. Before you use them, check the label.
All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.
Here are some important things to think about:
Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.
Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:
Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.
Call your doctor if you have:
Fast or pounding heartbeat.
Dizziness or lightheadedness.
Difficult or painful urination.
Common side effects of this medicine include:
Nervousness or restlessness.
See Drug Reference for a full list of side
effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)
What To Think About
Talk with your doctor before you use
decongestants if you have:
Talk with your doctor before you use
decongestants if you are taking tricyclic antidepressants or
monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), which are sometimes used to treat
depression and migraine headaches.
Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.
There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.
Advice for women
If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.