A decongestant or nasal decongestant is a pharmaceutical drug used to treat nasal congestion (runny nose, stuffy nose, etc.) in the upper airway (respiratory tract). Usually this unhealthy congestive condition is caused by colds or allergies. In order to understand how airway decongestants (nasal sprays or nose drops) work, we need to explain how congestion occurs.
Nasal congestion, or nasal stuffiness, is a common symptom of a common cold, flu, sinusitis, hay fever, etc. Congestion is the result of membranes inside the nose becoming swollen, which makes it difficult to breathe through the nose. Most nasal decongestants cause the membranes to shrink, in such a way relieving the stuffiness of your nose, so that you could breathe through it again.
How Does It Work?
Decongestants for nose commonly come in nasal sprays or nose drops, though many medications contained in them can also be taken orally. These pharmaceutical drugs are over-the-counter medicines that contain special active ingredients that make them work. The inside of your nose is lined with tiny blood vessels that begin to swell when irritated (caused by infection or allergy).
As a result, the nose breathing is blocked and a decongestant is needed. Usually, decongestants like oxymetazoline, xylometazoline, naphazoline, phenylephrine, pseudoephedrine, propylhexedrine, etc. reduce swelling of blood vessels, open up your upper respiratory tract, and make breathing easier. Nasal decongestants treat common symptoms (runny nose, sneezing, minor aches and fevers) but, unfortunately, can’t cure the underlying cause (a cold or allergy) of your blocked nose. Besides, using decongestants can cause different side effects.
Nasal Sprays’ Side Effects
Common side effects:
- nose/throat dryness;
- sneezing and temporary burning;
- local irritation.
These effects are temporary with no medical attention needed. If a patient experiences serious side effects, such as increased blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, headache, dizziness, nausea, nervousness or sleep problems, he/she should immediately consult his/her healthcare provider.
Tips for Safe Use
- Always read the information on a drug’s label (what for, how, when, and in what dosage you should take the medication).
- People with heart disease, kidney disease, thyroid disease, asthma, diabetes, glaucoma, high blood pressure or enlarged prostate gland shouldn’t take decongestants unless specifically prescribed by a doctor.
- Patients who are pregnant or breast feeding should consult their healthcare providers before taking decongestants.
- Possible interaction with other drugs. Consult your doctor.
- Should be used directly and for no more than three days (frequent or prolonged use may cause rebound congestion).
And remember: ‘Your health is in your hands!’ Treat it reasonably, and if you have any doubts, a healthcare provider is always at your service.