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How do I Choose the Best over-The-Counter Decongestant?

M.C. Huguelet
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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If you are suffering from a cold or allergies, you may be experiencing uncomfortable nasal congestion. Luckily, you may be able to relieve your stuffiness with an over-the-counter decongestant. To choose the best over-the-counter decongestant for you, first consider your symptoms to determine whether you should select a product which treats congestion only or one which soothes multiple symptoms. Then, decide whether you would prefer your medication in liquid, pill, or spray form. Once you have established your decongestant requirements, you can select a product which meets all of them.

Colds and allergies often cause the lining of the nasal passages to swell. This swelling, combined with the increased mucus production that also accompanies these conditions, can lead to uncomfortable nasal congestion. An over-the-counter decongestant temporarily relieves nasal swelling, allowing mucus to pass out of the nose and improving breathing.

To choose the best over-the-counter decongestant for you, begin by considering your symptoms. If nasal congestion is your only complaint, a simple decongestant may fulfill your needs. Should you have additional symptoms such as watery eyes, unproductive cough, or headache, you may find that a product which treats multiple symptoms is more suitable. For instance, you may wish to select a product which combines antihistamine, pain relief, and decongestant properties. This choice would allow you to treat itchy eyes, headache, and congestion with a single medication.

Next, decide whether you would prefer your over-the-counter decongestant in pill, liquid, or spray form. Many adults prefer decongestant pills, which may take the form of solid or gel tablets or caplets. Pills usually create little mess and can be easily carried in a purse or pocket. Certain people, however, have difficulty swallowing pills.

A liquid over-the-counter decongestant can be a good option for children or for those adults who have trouble swallowing pills. Liquid decongestants are generally available in a range of flavors, making it easy for parents to select a product their children will tolerate. Still, some people find the taste of liquid decongestant unpleasant. Additionally, it can prove quite messy if spilled. As it requires a dosage spoon or syringe, it can also be more difficult to carry than decongestant pills.

Over-the-counter decongestant is also widely available in nasal spray form. As this type of product is sprayed directly into the nasal passages, it is usually very effective in temporarily reducing congestion. It generally treats congestion only, however. Thus, those with other symptoms may need to take additional medications. Further, after three or more days of usage, nasal spray tends to cause increased stuffiness, a phenomenon known as “rebound” congestion.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
M.C. Huguelet
By M.C. Huguelet
Cate Huguelet, a Chicago-based freelance writer with a passion for storytelling, crafts engaging content for a wide range of publications, including The Health Board. With degrees in Writing and English, she brings a unique perspective and a commitment to clean, precise copy that resonates with readers. Her ability to understand and connect with audiences makes her a valuable asset to any content creation team.
Discussion Comments
By Vincenzo — On Jan 04, 2015

@Terrificli -- That is good advice but a lot of people built up a tolerance for decongestants that make them drowsy. That being the case, perhaps someone who finds one that works well should take it only before going to bed so they can at least get some sleep.

After a time, perhaps using that decongestant in the daytime will be OK.

As you said, everyone is different so that strategy won't work for everyone. Might be worth a shot, though.

By Terrificli — On Jan 03, 2015

A good piece of advice is to be careful about those decongestants that make you drowsy. Those are harder on some people than others, so you have to figure out which kind of person you are. If you find one that does make you drowsy, look at the main active ingredient in it, avoid it in the future and move on to something else.

You have to ask yourself what's worse? Being congested or falling asleep at your desk at work?

M.C. Huguelet
M.C. Huguelet
Cate Huguelet, a Chicago-based freelance writer with a passion for storytelling, crafts engaging content for a wide...
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