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How effective are decongestants?

The two most common nasal decongestant sprays, oxymetazoline (Afrin) and phenylephrine (Neo-Synephrine), are very effective, but are only recommended for use less than three consecutive days as they can cause worsening congestion when they are stopped. 

Two of the most notable oral decongestants are phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine. Between those two, pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) is shown to be the most effective. In fact, there are some studies that show the commonly used dose of phenylephrine in most over-the-counter preparations is no more effective than placebo.  

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

Decongestants relieve nasal congestion, but they have no effect on other nasal allergy symptoms. Decongestants are usually combined with an antihistamine to relieve a runny nose, sneezing and nasal itching.

Decongestants taken by mouth do not work as quickly as nasal sprays. They are also not as effective, but some extended-release oral decongestants have longer-lasting effects than nasal sprays.

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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