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What is a decongestant?

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

Decongestants are available as pills, nasal sprays, or drops. They are meant for short-term use only. Decongestants relieve nasal congestion by constricting small blood vessels of the mucous membrane in the nose. This reduces blood flow and helps to shrink swollen nasal passages, reduce stuffiness, and improve air flow. 

Most decongestants are available without a prescription, and many products combine a decongestant with other medicines such as an antihistamine or cough suppressant. Common oral decongestants are pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine. Nasal decongestants include phenylephrine, oxymetazoline, naphazoline, tetrahydrozoline, and xylometazoline. 

This answer was adapted from Sharecare's award-winning AskMD app. Start a consultation now to find out what's causing your symptoms, learn how to manage a condition, or find a doctor. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.