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Nasal Congestion and Sinus Pressure: OTC Medicines

Over-the-counter drugs can also play a role in controlling your symptoms.

  • Decongestants. These medicines help reduce the swelling in your nasal passages and ease the stuffiness and sinus pressure. They come as nasal sprays, like naphazoline ( Privine), oxymetazoline ( Afrin, Dristan, Duramist), or phenylephrine (Neo-Synephrine, Sinex, Rhinall). They are also available as pills, such as phenylephrine (Lusonal, Sudafed PE, Sudogest PE, and others) and pseudoephedrine ( Sudafed, Sudogest). Follow the directions for using them correctly and safely. Don’t use an oral decongestant for more than a week without checking with your doctor. Don’t use a decongestant nasal spray for more than three consecutive days as it may cause worsening congestion. Do not give decongestants or any over-the-counter cold medicine to children under 4.
  • Antihistamines. If allergies are behind your nasal congestion and sinus pressure, controlling them will help reduce your symptoms. Look for allergy medications that contain both an antihistamine to help relieve sniffling and sneezing along with a decongestant to help relieve congestion and sinus pressure. You may also find antihistamines in cold medicine, which can help a runny nose and sneezing. You'll usually find them in nighttime cold medicine because antihistamines can make you sleepy. Again, read and follow the label and talk to a health care provider or pharmacist. Also, in children, you should always use products intended for their age.
  • Pain relievers. Although they’re not helpful for nasal stuffiness, pain relievers like acetaminophen ( Tylenol), ibuprofen ( Advil, Motrin), and naproxen sodium ( Aleve) can help ease the pain caused by sinus pressure. When taking any over-the-counter medication, be sure to read and follow the label closely and not to take more than the recommended dose.

Nasal Congestion and Sinus Pressure: Seeing Your Doctor

Although there’s a lot you can do to ease your nasal congestion and sinus pressure, there are limits to what you should do on your own.

A rule of thumb: if you have nasal congestion and sinus pressure for more than seven days, you should see your doctor. By that point, the odds are higher that you could be dealing with a condition that needs medical treatment. Obviously, go to the doctor sooner if your symptoms are severe.

Keep in mind that the tips above will still help relieve your symptoms, no matter what the cause. It’s just that they may need to be accompanied by other medications or treatments to help control the underlying problem.


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