Decongestants are medications that provide short-term relief to a blocked nose. They can be taken to relieve the symptoms of congestion if the individual has hay fever or allergies, common cold, sinusitis or the flu.
Most variants of decongestants are readily available over-the-counter in pharmacies and drugstores without needing a prescription. You can find one in tablet form or as a nasal spray.
How do decongestants work?
The lining within the nose is comprised of several small-sized blood vessels. In case something irritates this lining such as an allergy or infection, there is increased blood flow to these vessels as a response of the immune system, thus making them swell up.
As a result, the reaction blocks the nasal airway and makes it hard for the individual to breathe via the nose. By using decongestants, they reduce the swelling of the blood vessels within the nose. In addition, it also helps open up the nasal airway which makes breathing a lot easier. On the other hand, even though they help breathe easily, decongestants will not cure the underlying cause of the clogged nose such as an allergy or cold.
Considerations when using decongestants
Always bear in mind that decongestants are not suitable for children below 12 years old, women currently breastfeeding and those who have certain health conditions such as high blood pressure. A doctor should be consulted if in doubt.
It is not advisable to use decongestants for more than 7 days since they can cause the nose to become even more blocked once the medication is no longer used. In case the symptoms continue to worsen or do not seem to improve, a doctor should be consulted.
What are the side effects?
Once side effects occur after using decongestants, they are usually mild such as the following:
- Dry mouth
- Feeling sick
There are also serious side effects that have been reported such as a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) and hallucinations (hearing and seeing things that are not real), but these are considered rare.
It is ordinary for decongestants to be sold as a component of flu, cold or hay fever remedy in which it is combined with pain medications such as paracetamol, ibuprofen or antihistamines.
Always read the instructions on the packaging carefully since it can be dangerous to use these “combined” remedies and then use extra paracetamol, ibuprofen or antihistamines. It is not advisable to use decongestants if the individual is using a form of antidepressant called as monoamine oxidase inhibitor since this can trigger a dangerous increase in the blood pressure level.