Skip to content

Decongestants

Decongestants relieve stuffy nose and congestion. Available as liquids, tablets, and sprays, they are sometimes combined in a single tablet with antihistamines. Claritin-D and Allegra-D are examples of decongestants combined with an antihistamine.

How they work: Decongestants narrow blood vessels. This helps relieve swollen tissue in nasal passages, relieving a stuffy nose.

Examples of OTC oral decongestants include:

  • phenylephrine (Sudafed PE, various store brands)
  • pseudoephedrine hydrochloride (Sudafed, various store brands)

Side effects of oral decongestants may include nervousness, dizziness, or sleeplessness.

Examples of OTC decongestant nasal sprays include:

  • naphazoline (Privine)
  • oxymetazoline hydrochloride (Afrin)
  • phenylephrine hydrochloride (Neo-Synephrine)

Side effects of nasal spray decongestants may include: burning or stinging in the nose, sneezing, or an increase in nasal discharge. Using nasal decongestant sprays for more than three days in a row can lead to rebound congestion and greater nasal stuffiness.

You should ask your doctor before taking either oral or nasal spray decongestants if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid disease, or difficulty urinating because of an enlarged prostate. 

Nasal Corticosteroid Sprays

Your doctor may prescribe these medications to use along with antihistamines or instead of them. Two sprays, Nasacort Allergy 24HR and Flonase Allergy Relief, are available over the counter. They are effective at relieving nasal congestion, runny nose, and sneezing.

How they work: These medications work by reducing inflammation.

These are examples of nasal corticosteroids:

  • Budesonide (Rhinocort)
  • Ciclesonide (Omnaris)
  • Fluticasone furoate (Veramyst)
  • Fluticasone propionate (Flonase)
  • Funisolide (Nasarel)
  • Mometasone (Nasonex)
  • Triamcinolone acetonide (Nasacort AQ)

Side effects may include:

  • Nosebleeds
  • Sore nose

Leukotriene Modifiers

This allergy drug is available by prescription.

How they work: Leukotriene blockers work by blocking immune system chemicals that cause allergy symptoms. This can help reduce inflammation and relieve congestion, a runny and itchy nose, and sneezing.

The only leukotriene modifier approved to treat allergy symptoms is Singulair (montelukast).

Side effects may include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Stomach upset

Other Medications

A few other medications may help with seasonal allergies. They include:

  • Cromolyn sodium (Nasalcrom), a nasal spray sometimes used to relieve allergy symptoms such as the stuffy, runny nose, and sneezing associated with hay fever. It is available over the counter. It works by stopping the release of substances involved in the allergic reaction. Cromolyn sodium eye drops are available by prescription to help treat the itchy eyes that can accompany seasonal allergies.
  • Decongestant eye drops – sometimes combined as decongestant-antihistamine eye drops – can temporarily relieve itchy eyes. Examples include naphazoline hydrochloride (Clear Eyes, Naphcon-A) and tetrahydrozoline hydrochloride (Murine Plus, Visine). They are available over the counter. Look for products that treat allergy symptoms, such as itchy, watery eyes.

WebMD Video Series

Outdoor Exercise and Allergies

Don't let seasonal allergies stop your exercise routine. Get tips for outdoor fitness all year long.

Click here to watch video: WebMD Video Series