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Viral Upper Respiratory Infections (Colds and Influenza) and Decongestants

Read more about Decongestants.


Decongestants are all related to adrenaline (epinephrine). Some are available topically (eg, nose sprays and eye drops), and others are taken by mouth. Because they can act as mild stimulants, they are often paired with antihistamines to counteract the sedative effect of antihistamines.

Common decongestants include:

  • Pseudoephedrine
  • Phenylephrine
  • Naphazoline
  • Oxymetazoline

The last two on the list, naphazoline and oxymetazoline, are often found in eye drops.

Effect of Decongestants on Viral Upper Respiratory Infections (Colds and Influenza)

Decongestants constrict blood vessels, thereby reducing swelling in inflamed tissues like the nose.

Side Effects and Warnings

Possible side effects of decongestants include:

  • Over-stimulation, such as nervousness and insomnia
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Rebound congestion—If these drugs are used for long periods of time, membranes get used to the effects, so that stopping the medication produces the swelling and congestion that was originally being treated. This is a common problem with nose drops and sprays.