The common cold, flu, and allergies are different health conditions, but they also share a lot of the same symptoms. These symptoms can include nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing, fever, headache, body aches, sore throat, cough, and chest congestion.
Nasal congestion is a very common symptom of the common cold. Nasal congestion, or nasal stuffiness, occurs when the membranes inside the nose become swollen, making it difficult to breathe through the nose. Nasal decongestants help relieve congestion or stuffiness so that you can breathe through the nose again.
Nasal decongestants, like all over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, contain certain active ingredients that make the medicines work in the human body. Nasal decongestant active ingredients work by reducing the swelling of nasal membranes caused by the common cold. When the membranes shrink, a person is better able to breathe through the nose. A nasal decongestant medicine’s active ingredients, including how much of a substance is in each dose, are listed first on the Drug Facts label.
Nasal decongestant active ingredients are available in both oral and topical medicines. Oral nasal decongestants such as pills or liquids are taken by mouth and are carried through the blood stream to the nasal membranes. Topical nasal decongestants are applied directly inside of the nose in the form of drops or sprays.
OTC medicines that contain the active ingredient pseudoephedrine are located behind the retail sales counter.
*Not all products sold under a brand contain the same ingredients. Please read the OTC Drug Facts label carefully for active ingredient information for specific products.
- Always read the OTC Drug Facts label carefully. The label tells you everything you need to know about the medicine including the ingredients, what you are supposed to use it for, how much you should take, and when you should not take the product.
- If your symptoms do not improve in seven days or if you develop a fever while on the medicine, contact your doctor.
- You should not take nasal decongestant medicines if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, thyroid disease, diabetes, or an enlarged prostate gland unless you are specifically told to by a doctor or other healthcare professional.
- Nasal decongestant medicines may interact with other drugs. You should not use these medicines if you are taking a prescription monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) or certain prescription drugs for depression, psychiatric or emotional conditions, or Parkinson’s disease.
- Topical nasal decongestants applied into the nose may cause temporary discomfort such as burning, sneezing, stinging, or an increase in nasal discharge.
- Topical nasal decongestants applied into the nose should be used only as directed and for no more than three days. Frequent or prolonged use may cause nasal congestion to recur or get worse.
- Talk to a healthcare professional before using an oral or topical nasal decongestant if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
All of the tips for the safe use of OTC nasal decongestants in this section also apply to children. But like most OTC medicines, there are some additional considerations when it comes to treating kids.
- Do not use any oral nasal decongestant medicines on children under the age of four.
- Do not give a nasal decongestant medicine to a child that is only intended to be used by an adult.
- Some topical nasal decongestants may be used on children under the age of four; however, dosage strengths may vary. Read the Drug Facts label carefully and contact a doctor as directed.
Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.
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