The Common Cold Remedies Over The Counter Decongestants

Though doctors can cure a wide variety of maladies or operate to offer patients some relief from their ills, there is still no cure for the common cold. This means that there are no absolute cold remedies that work 100 percent of the time.

A cold, which is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, takes its own time to wend its way through a person’s system, causing sniffles, sneezing, headaches and a host of other unpleasant symptoms. This can wreak havoc in the nose, throat, sinuses and even ears. Luckily, there are some cold remedies available to help cold sufferers suffer a little less as their body works to overcome the infection.

Why Decongestants Work

Nasal congestion is a hallmark symptom of a bad cold. One may feel stuffed up and unable to breathe and struggle to fight a relentlessly runny nose. This is where over-the-counter (OTC) decongestants can be a great weapon in the fight against the common cold.

Congestion is actually caused by a swelling of the mucous membranes in the nose, a protective response initiated when the immune system is under threat. Decongestant medications act to dilate blood vessels in the swollen tissues, reducing inflammation and opening airways up so that the person can breathe again. This also helps restore the natural balance of nasal drainage, helping to reduce the sniffles and bring some measure of relief.

Types of Decongestants

Nasal decongestants come in two different varieties:

  • oral
  • topical.

Oral decongestants generally come in three forms:

  • capsule
  • gel-cap
  • pill.

Topical decongestants are applied directly to the affected area in the form of sprays or cough drops.

Topical decongestants, such as nasal sprays and cough drops or lozenges, have been shown in some studies to be more effective than oral decongestants. One benefit is that topical options offer more immediate relief: A nasal spray can begin to work within minutes, whereas an oral decongestant must go through the digestive system before it begins to take effect, which can sometimes take an hour or even longer.

Decongestant Side Effects

However, there are some side effects of decongestants. Topical decongestants can be overused, leading to other problems. When a topical decongestant is used too much, it can cause rebound congestion, a condition often worse than the original problem.

This generally does not happen when topical decongestants are used as directed and for only a few days at a time as symptoms require. Topical decongestants are recommended only for adults and older kids.

Oral decongestants can be taken for longer periods of time without this problem. Oral medications are often taken for a week or so without the risk of rebound congestion.

Oral decongestants can cause other symptoms, such as dry mouth or even elevated blood pressure, so be sure to read the directions and follow them closely when using this type of OTC remedy. Because these medications can cause this rise in blood pressure and heart rate, you should read the label carefully to see if you should take it before bedtime, as this may interfere with getting some much needed rest.

Also, some decongestants are counter-indicated for certain types of anti-depressants as well as some beta-blockers. If you take these types of medication, be sure to discuss this with your physician before taking any OTC decongestants.

Resources

Health Encyclopedia (2007). Common Cold. Retrieved November 12, 2007, from the Health Encyclopedia Web site: http://www.faqs.org/health/Sick-V1/Common-Cold.html.

Health Scout (2001). Treatment of Common Cold. Retrieved November 12, 2007, from the Health Scout Web site: http://www.healthscout.com/ency/68/189/main.html#TreatmentofCommonCold.

NHS Direct (2007). Cold, common. Retrieved November 12, 2007, from the NHS Direct Web site: http://cks.library.nhs.uk/patient_information_leaflet/cold_common.