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Allergy Treatment: What Are Decongestants?

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Over the counter (OTC) decongestants work by shrinking blood vessels. A nasal spray acts directly on the blood vessels in the nose. Whilst this may ease symptoms of an allergy in the short term, there are side effects. For example, the shrinking of blood vessels can cause damage to the mucosa, the tissue inside the nose. In the long term this type of damage can cause atrophy whereby the nasal tissue degenerates.

A further complication with an OTC decongestant is the potential to take too many.

Recent guidelines have suggested that your decongestant should only be taken under medical supervision, and not at all for children under the age of six. Always consult a pharmacist when purchasing a decongestant for children. Parents should be particularly careful about using decongestant nasal sprays with young children because of the associated side effects.

What is pseudoephedrine?

Pseudoephedrine is related to a type of drug called ephedrine. It is a very common ingredient in the decongestant and cold medicines.

Pseudoephedrine has been linked to certain illnesses in young children. For this reason GPs generally advise that it should not be administered to children under the age of six, as it has potential side effects for this age group.

Dr Peter Saul, MB ChB DRCOG DCH MRCGP, Allergy Expert

10009 Published October 2011



Revised November 2012



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