ALABAMA (WHNT) — Bad news for those suffering from a stuffy nose this cold and flu season: a drug pharmaceutical companies claim to be a decongestant may not actually work to clear your nasal passages.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking a look at many over-the-counter cold and flu medicines after research showed a common ingredient does not work as advertised.
Phenylephrine has been used as an over-the-counter decongestant for more than 50 years. It is easy to find and easy to buy, but you may not be tackling the symptoms you think you are when you take it.
“The FDA reviewed about five studies which have been published for the past two decades, about 20 years,” said otolaryngologist and UAB associate professor Dr. De-Yeon Cho. “They found out that all those studies demonstrate that phenylephrine is not effective as placebo, which means it’s not really effective in controlling patients symptoms.”
The drug is found in medicines like Tylenol Cold and Flu, Theraflu Severe Cold and Cough, and Mucinex. If you have these medicines in your cabinet at home, Cho said they are safe to continue using.
“I really don’t recommend throwing it away right now,” Cho said. “The FDA says it may not really help you with certain symptoms, but there are other ingredients that can help you like reduce mucus, like Mucinex.”
Medications containing phenylephrine are often meant to address several symptoms at once including headache, cough, and mucus reduction. Cho said, if you are specifically looking for a decongestant, you have options.
“Get some hot steam in your nose, and put a little hot towel over it,” Cho said. “I would recommend using a topical steroid spray instead of taking a decongestant.”
If you look behind the counter at your pharmacy, you may notice another type of decongestant, pseudoephedrine. The drug can be found in Allegra-D, Claritin-D, and Sudafed. The FDA has not called into question its efficacy, but doctors do not always recommend it as a first option to their patients.
“These decongestants also affect your blood vessels,” Cho said. “They constrict all your blood vessels. Some people have heart rate issues, high blood pressure, and diabetes. They all interact with a lot of medications.”
Cho said to keep an eye on the expiration dates of the medicines you have in your home. He says to not worry about getting rid of products with phenylephrine until they expire.
If you remain congested for more than a few days at a time, Cho says the symptom may be indicative of an underlying problem. He recommends you make an appointment with your physician.