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Decongestants for Sinusitis

Examples

Generic NameBrand Name
oxymetazolineAfrin
phenylephrineNeo-Synephrine
pseudoephedrineSudafed

These products are available as nasal sprays, nose drops, tablets, and liquids.

In some states, medicines containing pseudoephedrine (such as Sudafed) are kept behind the pharmacist's counter or require a prescription. You may need to ask the pharmacist for it or have a prescription from your doctor to buy the medicine.

How It Works

Decongestants reduce swelling of the mucous membrane in the nose and sinuses associated with sinusitis by constricting blood vessels and reducing the blood supply to nasal mucous membranes. This reduces nasal congestion, stuffiness, and runny noses.

Unlike oral decongestants, nasal decongestants constrict blood vessels only in the nose and not in other parts of the body. So they rarely cause the side effects that oral decongestants do. Unfortunately, use of nasal decongestants is safe only for a short period of time, because their use can lead to further swelling of the sinus membranes as they wear off, creating more congestion, which in turn requires higher doses of medicine (called rebound congestion).

Why It Is Used

Decongestants are used to treat symptoms caused by nasal blockage and sinusitis. They may be used along with antibiotics and home treatment.

How Well It Works

Decongestants do not cure sinusitis, but they may reduce symptoms.1

Nasal sprays cannot reach the mucous membranes deeper in the nose and inside the sinuses. Oral decongestants may be needed to reduce swelling in these areas.

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call911or other emergency services right away if you have:

Call your doctor if you have:

Common side effects of this medicine include:

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Nasal sprays containing decongestants should not be used for more than 3 days in a row. If used for longer periods, you may have rebound congestion.

Saline (saltwater) nasal sprays and washes may help clear up a stuffy nose. Both are available at pharmacies without a prescription. A humidifier may also help thick or dried mucus to drain.

Decongestants may not be safe for young children or for people who have certain health problems. Before you use them, check the label. If you do use these medicines, always follow the directions about how much to use based on age and in some cases weight.

Talk with your doctor before you use decongestants if you have other health problems such as:

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.

Checkups

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

Citations

  1. Suh JD, Chiu AG (2012). Acute and chronic sinusitis. In AK Lalwani, ed., Current Diagnosis and Treatment Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery, 3rd ed., pp. 291–301. New York: McGraw-Hill.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerPatrice Burgess, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerDonald R. Mintz, MD - Otolaryngology
Last RevisedSeptember 12, 2012

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 12, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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