Popular OTC decongestants found to be ineffective

With cold and flu season approaching, you may be thinking about stocking up on your preferred decongestants and cold medicines.

The last thing you want is to be caught empty-handed when your sinuses are blocked, you can’t breathe and the pressure and pain knocks you down for the count.

But before you head to the pharmacy, I’m here to give you some news about recent developments in the world of cold remedies that may blow your mind — then we’ll work on how to blow that congestion right out of your nose…

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Active ingredient in popular decongestants deemed ineffective

In the world of over-the-counter decongestants, many of the products we reach for contain the active ingredient phenylephrine (PE)

Phenylephrine is found in popular products such as Advil Sinus Congestion & Pain, Sudafed PE Nasal Decongestant, Tylenol Cold & Flu Severe, and many, many others.

But following an evaluation of clinical trial data, a panel of expert advisors for the FDA agreed that oral PE-based drugs are no better at reducing stuffiness than a placebo.

In a briefing document published in September of 2023, the panel recommended that oral PE decongestants be reclassified so that they are not falsely labeled as “effective.”

While they are still safe to ingest, the panel found that, when taken orally, too much of the medicine is broken down before it gets into the bloodstream to have any real effect.

But, and this may seem a little confusing… There are some decongestant products containing PE that the FDA gives a green light to. That’s because those products — including nasal sprays and liquid eye drops — deliver the active ingredient into the bloodstream via a more direct route.

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Safer choices for fighting congestion

This all leaves you with a couple of choices. You can switch to nasal sprays and see if PE works for you when pushed into your bloodstream, or you can try a natural alternative.

And there’s good reason to give the latter at least a try…

Due to the severity of sinus symptoms, many people suffering from chronic sinusitis have been reported to form addictions to chemical over-the-counter nasal sprays.

Active ingredients, including PE and another decongestant called Oxymetazoline, can not only lead to dependency but can cause damage to nasal passage membranes, leading to chronically inflamed nasal passageways — a condition known as rebound congestion — and cause recurring symptoms to worsen over time.

But when you can’t breathe and sinus pain and pressure make your head feel like it’s about to explode, what else can you do?

Nasal irrigation: A natural and chemical-free method is simply to irrigate the nasal passages with a saline solution. Nasal irrigation improves nasal mucociliary clearance while also removing mucus from the maxillary and ethmoid sinuses. Practicing nasal irrigation during the times of the year you’re most affected by sinus trouble can work as a preventative as well.

Nattokinase: Natto is a traditional Japanese superfood that contains a heavily studied enzyme, nattokinase, found to dissolve sinus pain and pressure. The enzyme has been found to shrink nasal polyps which can lock mucus inside sinus cavities, as well as thin mucus allowing better drainage.

Spicy foods: Did you know you can find nasal sprays made with capsaicin? That’s one way to make your nose run. Another is to eat spicy foods that open up your sinuses and let the mucus flow.

Ginger and turmeric: The anti-inflammatory properties of these spices help open up congested nasal passages by relieving the swelling. Try them in a hot tea and breathe in the steam while you allow it to cool down before sipping.

Essential oils: Essential oils can help relieve symptoms of cold, congestion and sinus pressure. Here you can find instructions on how to make a soothing blend and put it to work.

To cut your risk of a sinus infection be sure to beef up your vitamin D3 and keep zinc on hand.

Editor’s note: There are numerous safe and natural ways to decrease your risk of blood clots including the 25-cent vitamin, the nutrient that acts as a natural blood thinner and the powerful herb that helps clear plaque. To discover these and more, click here for Hushed Up Natural Heart Cures and Common Misconceptions of Popular Heart Treatments!


Key Ingredient in Most Decongestants Doesn’t Work, Experts Say — Science Alert

NDAC Briefing Document: Oral Phenylephrine in the CCABA Monograph — FDA

Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.