Looks at medicines to treat symptoms of sinusitis. Lists generic and brand names like oxymetazoline (Afrin) and pseudoephedrine (Sudafed). Covers how they work. Lists side effects. Covers who should not take decongestants.
Decongestants for Sinusitis
These products are available as nasal sprays, nose drops,
tablets, and liquids.
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 reduce swelling of the
mucous membrane in the nose and sinuses associated
sinusitis by constricting blood vessels and reducing
the blood supply to nasal mucous membranes. This reduces nasal congestion,
stuffiness, and runny noses.
Unlike oral decongestants, nasal
decongestants constrict blood vessels only in the nose and not in other parts
of the body. So they rarely cause the side effects that oral
decongestants do. Unfortunately, use of nasal decongestants is safe only for a
short period of time, because their use can lead to further swelling of the
sinus membranes as they wear off, creating more congestion, which in turn
requires higher doses of medicine (called
Why It Is Used
Decongestants are used to treat
symptoms caused by nasal blockage and sinusitis. They may be used along with
antibiotics and home treatment.
How Well It Works
Decongestants do not cure sinusitis,
but they may reduce symptoms.1
sprays cannot reach the mucous membranes deeper in the nose and inside the
sinuses. Oral decongestants may be needed to reduce swelling in these
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
Nasal sprays containing
decongestants should not be used for more than 3 days in a row. If used for
longer periods, you may have rebound congestion.
nasal sprays and washes may help clear up a stuffy nose. Both are available at pharmacies without a prescription. A
humidifier may also help thick or dried mucus to drain.
Decongestants may not be safe for young children or for people who have certain health problems. Before you use them, check the label. If you do use these medicines, always follow the directions about how much to use based on age and in some cases weight.
Talk with your doctor before you use
decongestants if you have other health problems such as:
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.
Suh JD, Chiu AG (2012). Acute and chronic sinusitis. In AK Lalwani, ed., Current Diagnosis and Treatment Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery, 3rd ed., pp. 291–301. New York: McGraw-Hill.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.