Are All Decongestants a Scam? Here’s What the New FDA Ruling Means

Advice

Popular decongestants have been rule ineffective

Cold and flu season is right around the corner, and fall is one of the worst seasons for allergies — meaning this time of year, it’s common to be dealing with a stuffy nose. And in the past, you’ve probably headed to the drugstore for a decongestant to get some relief. But according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a common ingredient found in many popular over-the-counter (OTC) oral decongestants — the nasal decongestant phenylephrine — has been deemed ineffective.

The FDA’s Nonprescription Drug Advisory Committee voted on Tuesday after data revealed phenylephrine was only absorbed by less than one percent in the body (compared to the previously reported 38 percent). The committee presented data from three large studies since 2016 that found medications containing phenylephrine provided the same congestion relief as placebos. So what does this mean for the upcoming cold and flu season? And which decongestants contain phenylephrine in the first place? Before you throw out all the decongestants in your medicine cabinet, here’s what experts want you to know about them.

Which Decongestant Does Not Work?

Phenylephrine is the ingredient that the FDA found ineffective. Unfortunately, it’s found in many popular decongestants, including Sudafed PE, Mucinex Sinus Max, Robitussin Peak Cold Nighttime Nasal Relief, Benadryl Allergy Plus Congestion, Vicks DayQuil and NyQuil Severe Cold & Flu, and more.

“Many people who had used this type of nasal decongestant were going for a quick fix for their nasal congestion and stuffiness,” allergist Clifford Bassett, MD, a clinical associate professor of medicine at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, tells POPSUGAR. But it turns out that other meds may work better at relieving your congestion.

Should You Throw Away Your Decongestants With Phenylephrine?

Not necessarily, says pulmonologist Lauren Eggert, MD, a clinical assistant professor at Stanford University School of Medicine. “I don’t think you need to throw them out or be worried about taking them. There’s no evidence they’re harmful — they just may be ineffective and can be expensive,” she tells POPSUGAR.

Dr. Eggert adds that many medications containing phenylephrine also contain other ingredients that may relieve symptoms associated with cold and flu — another reason not to ditch them completely.

Are There Decongestants Without Phenylephrine?

If the FDA takes the committee’s recommendations, certain drugmakers may have to take oral decongestants containing phenylephrine off the shelves, which leaves consumers the option of pseudoephedrine products.

Pseudoephedrine is the only other non-prescription oral nasal decongestant available at the drugstore — however, since 2006 it has only been available “behind the counter,” since it is a common ingredient used to make methamphetamine.

Other alternative treatments recommended by the FDA review include intranasal decongestants (some of which contain phenylephrine), intranasal steroids, intranasal antihistamines, and intranasal saline products.

“I favor various OTC meds for relief, more recently available in drugstores, like nasal antihistamines and nasal steroid sprays,” says Dr. Bassett. There are also plenty of natural relief methods you can try to tackle your decongestion.

That being said, if you are experiencing congestion and have concerns or questions about the ingredients in your medicine cabinet, Dr. Eggert suggests you consult your doctor.

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