Safe use of Nasal Decongestants

Nasal decongestants are products that help reduce nasal stuffiness caused by a cold or allergic rhinitis (hay fever). While most people assume that they are safe to use in any situation because they are sold over the counter, there are several hazards associated with their use. Nonprescription nasal decongestants come in several forms. Some are taken orally (e.g. pseudoephedrine, usually in the form of tablets or syrups). Others are placed into the nose topically (drops or sprays) or used as inhalers. Popular trade names for these products include oral Sudafed or topical products such as Afrin, Neo-Synephrine, Benzedrex, or Vicks Vapor Inhaler.

These products have several precautions associated with their use. You must read the entire label before purchase to ensure that the decongestant is safe for you. The labels contain information on who should not use decongestants without a physician recommendation. For instance, people with heart disease should not use them because they can increase the work of the heart and may actually cause serious heart problems in those who already have heart damage. Persons with hypertension should not use them. Nasal decongestants make blood vessels smaller, and this can raise blood pressure, working against any blood pressure medication a patient is taking.

Those with thyroid disease should also avoid these drugs, as thyroid disease can increase the risk of adverse reactions, such as sleeplessness. Nasal decongestants can alter the blood glucose and should be avoided by those with diabetes mellitus.

Finally, they can hamper urine flow in men and should not be taken by those with impaired urine flow due to an enlarged prostate gland. If this warning is not heeded, insertion of catheter might be required to allow the patient to empty his bladder.

Women who are pregnant should not use nasal decongestants without asking their obstetrician beforehand. These drugs might have adverse effects on the developing fetus. Further, taking them while breast-feeding can cause adverse effects in the baby.

Potential for Abuse:

Some people have recently been confronted when attempting to buy several boxes of pseudoephedrine tablets. To their surprise, personnel at the pharmacy or store have questioned them. The cause of this is widespread national use of pseudoephedrine tablets as a starter drug to make methamphetamine, an illegal drug. Its use has reached epidemic levels in many parts of the country. national and state laws have attempted to stem this criminal activity by establishing limits on sales of pseudoephedrine. The pharmacist asks your indulgence if you are questioned, in spite of the fact that you are legitimately buying pseudoephedrine as a decongestant. Your cooperation is vital in helping to stamp out this national scandal.

Rebound Congestion

A final precaution about nasal decongestants involves continued inappropriate use of nasal sprays or drops (e.g. Afrin, Neo-Synephrine). Some patients find that after a few days of using these products, they have developed a continual nasal congestion that improves only when they increase the amount of drops they are taking. They may be caught in a vicious cycle of addiction in which the drop or spray is actually causing and worsening the nasal congestion!

If you experience this rebound congestion, you must stop use of nasal decongestants immediately to allow the nasal tissues to return to normal. It may take a day or two before you can breathe normally again. During this time, use of nasal strips may help you breathe. However, do not resort to reuse of the spray/drop, as you may become addicted again.

Remember to consult your pharmacist if you have any questions about the safe use of nasal decongestants.