Decongestants may help shrink swollen tissues in the nose, sinuses,
throat, and the space behind the eardrum (middle ear). This may relieve
pressure and pain.
Decongestants can be taken by mouth (oral) or
used as nose drops or sprays. Oral decongestants are probably more effective
and provide longer relief, but they cause more side effects. There are only two
nonprescription decongestants that you can take as a pill: pseudoephedrine
(such as Sudafed) and phenylephrine (such as Sudafed PE). In some states, any
medicine that contains pseudoephedrine is kept behind the pharmacist's counter
so you will need to ask the pharmacist for it. In other states, you have to
have a prescription from your doctor to buy medicine containing
Sprays and drops provide rapid but temporary
relief. Sprays and drops are less
likely to interact with other medicines, which may be a problem with oral
Check the label before you use these medicines. They may not be safe for young children.
If you use these medicines, always follow the directions about how much to use based on age and in some cases weight. Not everyone needs the same amount of medicine.
Decongestants can cause problems for people who have certain health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, glaucoma, diabetes, or an overactive thyroid. Decongestants may also interact with some drugs, such as certain antidepressants and high blood pressure medicines. Read the package carefully or ask your pharmacist or doctor to help you choose the best decongestant for you.
Drink extra fluids when you are taking cold medicines.
Don't use medicated nasal sprays or drops more than 3 times a day or for more than 3 days in a row. Continued use will cause a "rebound effect" in which your mucous membranes swell up more than before you used the spray.
If you are pregnant, check with your doctor or pharmacist before using a decongestant.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.