Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Select An Article
Font Size

Decongestants and Antihistamines for the Common Cold


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.

The following over-the-counter antihistamines and decongestant drugs are taken for relief of both cold and allergy symptoms.

Type of Decongestant or Antihistamine Cold Medicine

Brand Name(s)


Possible Side Effects

Antihistamine (tablets, caplets, or liquid)


Itchy, runny nose and eyes; sneezing; itchy throat

Drowsiness or grogginess, upset stomach, dry mouth, impaired coordination and judgment, urinary retention, loss of appetite, excitability (in children)

Decongestant (tablets or caplets)


Congestion and pressure in head, nose, and ears

Lightheadedness, wakefulness, nervousness, restlessness (jittery and shaky), increased blood pressure and heart rate; irregular heart beat

(tablets, caplets, or liquid)

Chlor-Trimeton D
Tavist D

Itchy, runny nose and eyes; sneezing; congestion

Possible antihistamine and/or decongestant side effects

pain reliever
(tablets, caplets, or liquid)

Advil Cold and Sinus
Comtrex Day/Night

Itchy, runny nose and eyes; sneezing; congestion; headache

Possible antihistamine and/or decongestant side effects

Decongestant nose spray

Dristan Nasal Spray

Nasal stuffiness

Might lead to "rebound" congestion from dependence on the medicine if used for more than 3 days

Antihistamine eye drops

Visine-A (Formerly OcuHist)

Itchy, watery eyes; eye redness

Temporary stinging in the eyes or blurred vision; "rebound" redness of the eyes if overused



WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on June 11, 2012
Next Article:

Today on WebMD

hot toddy
15 tips to help you feel better.
man sneezing into elbow
Do echinacea and vitamin C really help a cold?
teen girl coughing
Get a good night’s rest with these remedies.
elder berry
Eat these to fight colds, flu, and more.
Natural Cold Flu Remedies Slideshow
blowing nose
Allergy And Sinus Symptom Evaluator
Health Check
Boy holding ear

Loaded with tips to help you avoid food allergy triggers.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.


Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

woman receiving vaccine shot
Bacterial or Viral Infection
How To Calm Your Cough
Sore Throat

WebMD Special Sections