How do I Choose the Best Decongestant?

L. Hautzinger

A decongestant is a medication used to treat a stuffy nose, or nasal congestion. Decongestants are available in pill or liquid form that is taken orally or as a nasal spray that is taken topically. They work by shrinking the blood vessels in nasal passages, thus allowing air to pass through. When choosing the best decongestant, consumers should consider carefully their own personal medical history as well as the the exact symptoms they are trying to treat. The best decongestant typically contains either pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine or oxymetazoline.

Although the decongestant pseudoephedrine does't require a prescription, it's often only available from a pharmacist.
Although the decongestant pseudoephedrine does't require a prescription, it's often only available from a pharmacist.

Generally, the best decongestant is available in pill or liquid form and contains the ingredient pseudophedrine. It provides regular relief from nasal congestion and usually lasts four to six hours. This decongestant does not require a doctor's prescription, but consumers might need to purchase this medication directly from the pharmacist; it often is not available off the shelf because of abuse of the drug. Pseudophedrine works by limiting blood flow to the nasal cavity, so it can raise blood pressure and cause excitability. People who have high blood pressure should use caution when using decongestants with this ingredient and should talk with their doctor prior to using it.

Prescription decongestants.
Prescription decongestants.

Another effective nasal decongestant that is also available in pill form has phenylephrine as its main ingredient. Unlike decongestants with pseudophedrine, this medication can be purchased off the shelf, so it is more readily available. It works similar to its pseudophedrine by also restricting blood flow in the nasal cavity and should also be used with caution by those who suffer from high blood pressure, because it can cause restlessness, rapid heartbeat and nervousness and can elevate blood pressure.

Decongestants are available in several forms, including nasal spray.
Decongestants are available in several forms, including nasal spray.

For those consumers looking for short-term, immediate relief from nasal congestion, decongestant sprays can be a good option. These sprays usually contain oxymetazoline as their active ingredient, and they provide relief from nasal congestion usually within minutes. Plus, the medicinal effect of nasal sprays typically last for eight to 12 hours.

Saline nasal sprays, which consist mostly of a salt-water solution, can help break up congestion.
Saline nasal sprays, which consist mostly of a salt-water solution, can help break up congestion.

For people who have heart problems and might be looking to avoid the negative side effects of decongestants in pill form, nasal sprays might be the best decongestant. This medication should be used sparingly, however, and should be used only when immediate relief is needed. Nasal decongestant sprays can quickly become habit-forming and could make nasal congestion worse if they are used for more than three days.

Decongestants target different cold and allergy symptoms.
Decongestants target different cold and allergy symptoms.

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