To print: Use your web browser's print feature. Close this window after printing.

Decongestants for Allergic Rhinitis

Table of Contents

Decongestants for Allergic Rhinitis


Many over-the-counter decongestants are available. The following are a few examples:

Generic NameBrand Name

Decongestants are available as nasal sprays, liquids, and pills.

In some areas, medicines containing pseudoephedrine (such as Sudafed) are kept behind the pharmacist's counter or require a prescription. You may need to ask the pharmacist for it or have a prescription from your doctor to buy the medicine.

How It Works

Decongestants narrow blood vessels, reducing the blood supply to nasal mucous membranes. This reduces stuffy and runny noses.

Why It Is Used

You can use decongestants for a stuffy or runny nose caused by allergic rhinitis.

How Well It Works

Nasal spray decongestants work within about 10 minutes and may provide relief for up to 12 hours. Pill decongestants work within 30 minutes and may provide relief for up to 6 hours.

Decongestants do not help sneezing or itching. But some pill decongestants are combined with an antihistamine to help sneezing and itching. Examples include Allerest and Actifed. These medicines may not be safe for young children or for people who have certain health problems. Before you use them, check the label.

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:

Call your doctor if you have:

Common side effects of this medicine include:

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Decongestant nasal sprays should be used only for short periods of time (not more than 3 days in a row).

Many over-the-counter medicines for other health problems, such as some diet pills, contain decongestants. To avoid a possible overdose, do not take two medicines containing decongestants at the same time.

Be careful with these medicines. They may not be safe for young children or for people who have certain health problems, so check the label first. If you do use these medicines, always follow the directions about how much to use based on age and weight.

Instead of or along with using medicine, you can buy or make saltwater (saline) nasal sprays to help clear up a stuffy nose.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.


Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF) to help you understand this medication.

Credits for Decongestants for Allergic Rhinitis

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Rohit K Katial, MD - Allergy and Immunology
Last Revised June 17, 2013

Note: The "printer friendly" document will not contain all the information available in the online document. Some information (e.g. cross-references to other topics, definitions or medical illustrations) is only available in the online version.

© 1995-2014 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.