How Do I Choose the Best Over-the-Counter Decongestant?

A nasal spray may be an effective decongestant.
Decongestants target different cold and allergy symptoms.
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  • Written By: M.C. Huguelet
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 09 December 2014
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If you are suffering from a cold or allergies, you may be experiencing uncomfortable nasal congestion. Luckily, you may be able to relieve your stuffiness with an over-the-counter decongestant. To choose the best over-the-counter decongestant for you, first consider your symptoms to determine whether you should select a product which treats congestion only or one which soothes multiple symptoms. Then, decide whether you would prefer your medication in liquid, pill, or spray form. Once you have established your decongestant requirements, you can select a product which meets all of them.

Colds and allergies often cause the lining of the nasal passages to swell. This swelling, combined with the increased mucus production that also accompanies these conditions, can lead to uncomfortable nasal congestion. An over-the-counter decongestant temporarily relieves nasal swelling, allowing mucus to pass out of the nose and improving breathing.

To choose the best over-the-counter decongestant for you, begin by considering your symptoms. If nasal congestion is your only complaint, a simple decongestant may fulfill your needs. Should you have additional symptoms such as watery eyes, unproductive cough, or headache, you may find that a product which treats multiple symptoms is more suitable. For instance, you may wish to select a product which combines antihistamine, pain relief, and decongestant properties. This choice would allow you to treat itchy eyes, headache, and congestion with a single medication.


Next, decide whether you would prefer your over-the-counter decongestant in pill, liquid, or spray form. Many adults prefer decongestant pills, which may take the form of solid or gel tablets or caplets. Pills usually create little mess and can be easily carried in a purse or pocket. Certain people, however, have difficulty swallowing pills.

A liquid over-the-counter decongestant can be a good option for children or for those adults who have trouble swallowing pills. Liquid decongestants are generally available in a range of flavors, making it easy for parents to select a product their children will tolerate. Still, some people find the taste of liquid decongestant unpleasant. Additionally, it can prove quite messy if spilled. As it requires a dosage spoon or syringe, it can also be more difficult to carry than decongestant pills.

Over-the-counter decongestant is also widely available in nasal spray form. As this type of product is sprayed directly into the nasal passages, it is usually very effective in temporarily reducing congestion. It generally treats congestion only, however. Thus, those with other symptoms may need to take additional medications. Further, after three or more days of usage, nasal spray tends to cause increased stuffiness, a phenomenon known as “rebound” congestion.


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