Decongestants and nasal sprays

Decongestants or nasal sprays may help relieve a stuffy nose.

Decongestants shrink swollen tissues in the space behind the eardrum (middle ear). This may relieve pressure and pain. They can be taken by mouth (oral) or in nose drops or sprays. Oral decongestants are probably more effective and provide longer relief than drops or sprays, but they cause more side effects.

Sprays and drops provide rapid but temporary relief. Sprays and drops are less likely to interact with other medicines, which can be a problem with oral decongestants.

Decongestant precautions

  • Look for a single-ingredient decongestant that contains pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine.
  • Don't give these medicines to a child younger than 2 unless you've checked with the doctor first. If your child’s doctor tells you to give a medicine, be sure to follow what he or she tells you to do. Using saline drops or a humidifier may help thick or dried mucus to drain. You can also use a suction bulb to gently remove mucus from your baby’s nose. These are safer ways to treat a stuffy nose.
  • Do not use medicated nasal sprays or drops more often than directed and not longer than 3 days. Continued use will cause your mucous membranes to swell more than before using the spray (rebound effect).
  • Drink extra fluids when taking cold medicines.
  • If you are not certain about which decongestant to use, ask your pharmacist or doctor for help.

You also can make a saline solution nasal spray. This will not cause rebound symptoms.

Last Updated: July 31, 2008

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