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What Are the Different Types of Decongestant Medicine?

Decongestant medication is typically available as a nasal spray.
Prescription decongestants.
Eucalyptus is a common natural decongestant.
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  • Written By: Deborah Walker
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 22 August 2014
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Congestion of the sinuses, nose, or chest may result when the blood vessels in these body parts become swollen or dilated. Decongestant medicine works to shrink the blood vessels, reduce swelling, and decrease mucous production. This medication is typically available in nasal spray, capsules, tablets, liquid, and as homeopathic or herbal remedies, and may be purchased over the counter at the pharmacy or at health food stores. Side effects of conventional decongestants range from restlessness and loss of appetite to rebound effect and the worsening of heart problems; homeopathic and herbal remedies have no known side effects. Those who have heart disease, high blood pressure, or other conditions, as well as those on certain medications, should not take conventional decongestants.

When blood vessels in the mucous membranes of the nose, sinuses, or chest are irritated, they may become swollen and have an increase in blood flow. This results in mucous production and congestion. Allergic reactions to dust, pollen, and pets may trigger an allergic reaction that causes congestion. Cold-causing viruses may have the same effect, making it difficult to breathe.

Decongestant medicine works by contracting the blood vessels within the mucous membranes. This decreases the blood flow. The limited blood flow reduces mucous production, which, in turn, clears congestion.

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Common conventional decongestant medicine may include guaifenesin, pseudoephedrine, phenylpropanolamine, phenylephrine. diphenhydramine, chlorpheniramine, brompheniramine, singly or in combination. These are available in formulations for adults or children. They may be purchased as a nasal spray, in capsules and tablets, or as a liquid. Some formulations of decongestant medicine are meant for use either during the daytime or at night. Daytime medicines do not contain any drugs that cause drowsiness.

Side effects of conventional over-the-counter decongestants may include restlessness, insomnia, loss of appetite, and the worsening of heart disease. Other known side effects that may occur are nausea, headache, or heart palpitations. The most common side effect of long-term use of decongestant nasal spray is known as chemical rhinitis, or the rebound effect. Theis is a condition in which the blood vessels in the nose swell as a reaction to the nasal spray, making congestion worse rather than better. To avoid the rebound effect, nasal sprays should not be used for more than three days at a time.

Taking over-the-counter decongestant medicine in combination with some prescription medications can make congestion worse. Antibiotics, antifungals, antidepressants, blood pressure or heart medications, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories should not be combined with conventional decongestants. Decongestant medicines may also change the way some prescription medication works. The decongestants may alter the effect of anti-Parkinson medications, insulin, antipsychotic drugs, and others. Those with heart disease, glaucoma, thyroid diseases, diabetes, or prostate conditions should not take decongestant medicine before speaking with their doctor.

Homeopathic remedies come in a spray or pellets. Nat mur, ferrum phos, nux vomica, and allium cepa are a few common decongestant homeopathic substances. They are often used in combination with one another and are not known to have any side effects. Although they are generally regarded as safe for most people, pregnant or nursing women, children, and those with chronic illnesses should speak to their doctor before taking any of these remdies.

Herbal remedies that are said to clear congestion include eyebright, ma huang, marshmallow, garlic, licorice, peppermint, menthol, and eucalyptus leaves. Like pharmaceutical decongestants, herbal decongestants are usually available in spray, liquid, or pill form and come in both adult and children's formulas. As with homeopathic remedies, these decongestant medicines are thought to be safe; pregnant or nursing women, children, or the chronically ill should, however, consult with a healthcare professional prior to beginning use.

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