Health A to Z
Decongestants are a type of medicine that can provide short-term relief for a blocked or stuffy nose (nasal congestion).
They work by reducing the swelling of the blood vessels in your nose, which helps open up the airways.
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Decongestants are available as:
Some products may just contain decongestant medication, but many are sold as "all in one" remedies that contain decongestants, painkillers and/or antihistamines.
Most decongestants can be bought over the counter from pharmacies without a prescription.
Most people can use decongestants safely, but they're not suitable for everyone.
They shouldn't be used by the following groups of people without getting advice from a pharmacist or GP first:
The patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine will state who shouldn't use it and who should seek advice before using it.
Most decongestants should only be used three or four times a day.
Check the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine for advice about how much to take and how often to take it. If you're unsure, ask a pharmacist for advice.
Decongestant nasal sprays shouldn't be used for more than a week at a time because using them for too long can make your stuffiness worse.
Speak to your GP if your symptoms fail to improve after this time.
Decongestant medicines don't usually have side effects, and any side effects you may experience are usually mild.
Possible side effects can include:
These side effects should pass after you stop taking the medication.
Seek advice from a pharmacist or GP before taking decongestants if you're taking other medications. Decongestants can increase or decrease the effect of some other medications.
For example, taking decongestants alongside a type of antidepressant called a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) can cause a dangerous rise in blood pressure.
It's also important to be wary of taking other medications if you're using an "all in one" decongestant remedy.
These products contain additional painkillers and/or antihistamines, so it could be dangerous to take extra separate doses of these medicines at the same time.