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Decongestants and Antihistamines for the Common Cold

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Are Decongestants and Antihistamines Unsafe?

The decongestant phenylpropanolamine, or PPA, was used for years as an ingredient in many cold drugs to relieve stuffy nose and congestion. This decongestant was also used in diet pills to control appetite. In 2000, PPA was linked to a significantly increased risk of stroke, especially in women aged 18 to 49. As a result, the FDA in November 2000 banned the use of PPA in all prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Newly manufactured decongestants and cold medicines do not contain PPA, but you should make sure you don't have any old cold medicines in your medicine cabinet that might contain the ingredient. Be sure to clean out your medicine cabinet and discard all old medicines.

What Are the Side Effects of Decongestants and Antihistamines?

Antihistamines used to relieve cold symptoms usually cause drowsiness. For this reason, they are typically found only in nighttime cold medicines. Other common side effects include dry mouth, dizziness, and headache.

Decongestants may keep you awake and are usually taken during the day. Nasal spray decongestants are less likely to keep you awake and may be helpful at night for congestion. But remember, you should not take them for more than three days as you may have an increase in congestion once you stop them if you use them longer.

Decongestants can also increase blood pressure, so people with high blood pressure or heart disease should check with their doctor before using them. There are decongestant-free cold medicines available if you have high blood pressure.

What Are Some Common Decongestants and Antihistamines for Colds?

There are many over-the-counter decongestants and antihistamines that can help treat cold symptoms such as runny noses, sneezing, and congestion. These symptom-relieving drugs are available separately and in combinations with other cold and pain drugs. If you choose a combination cold medicine, be sure you know everything that is in it. Check to see if it contains acetaminophen. If so, follow the directions on the label very carefully and do not take Tylenol or any other acetaminophen along with it. This could cause an overdose and serious liver damage can occur.

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