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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Not all over-the-counter medications function as advertised

By Dr. Veita Bland / September 22, 2023

Phenylephrine has been called America’s (United States) favorite over-the-counter medication for nasal stuffiness. However, the FDA has been examining some of these over-the-counter medications to determine whether they are really effective. Courtesy The American Heart Association.

So, you have a bad cold, and your nose is stuffy. You just want something that will relieve that stuffiness and allow you to breathe through your nose again. You want to take a medication that will help you feel better. You have been taking over-the-counter medications for years that contain the decongestant phenylephrine, and you think it has been effective in relieving your symptoms.

Phenylephrine has been called America’s (United States) favorite over-the-counter medication for nasal stuffiness. It is an ingredient found in many medications for colds and has been used for decades. It is estimated by the FDA that in 2022, the stuffy-nosed American public paid more than $1.76 billion for cold products containing phenylephrine.

Now the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) is examining over-the-counter medications with phenylephrine to determine just how effective they may be. This examination is conducted through an advisory board to the FDA, and they have determined that phenylephrine just does not cut the mustard. It is not effective in the dosage commonly found in over-the-counter medications. If the FDA mandates this medication should be removed from the market, confusion may result. It is important to note that phenylephrine does not have adverse health effects. According to the FDA, it is simply not effective.

There are other ways to relieve nasal congestion such as using intranasal decongestants, intranasal antihistamines, intranasal steroids and intranasal saline products. Yes, we understand that some people do not care to insert things into their noses.

There are oral medications on the market that are effective and relieve congestion. These medications are behind the counter, and they contain pseudoephedrine. Behind the counter means that these medications must be asked for; the purchaser must show identification and provide a signature. Unfortunately, these medications have been placed behind the counter because they have been used to make illegal drugs such as methamphetamine.

These purchasing steps help control and monitor the amount a person buys and can help prevent abuse. Even with this restriction, in 2022 more than 50 million packages of pseudoephedrine were sold in the United States with a monetary value of more than $542 million. Pseudoephedrine is effective.

If the FDA takes steps to remove phenylephrine from the market it may break up the routine many consumers have established to treat their nasal congestion. On the other hand, phenylephrine’s removal will give Americans a chance to use methods and behind-the-counter medications that studies prove are more effective. Now, if behind-the-counter medications fail to treat your congestion, it may be time to visit your healthcare provider and obtain a prescription for a medication that will treat your symptoms.

Dr. Veita Bland is a board-certified Greensboro physician and hypertension specialist. Dr. Bland’s radio show, “It’s a Matter of Your Health,” can be heard live on Wednesdays, 5:30 p.m. on N.C. A&T State University’s WNAA, 90.1 FM. Listeners may call in and ask questions. The show is replayed on Sirius 142 at 5 p.m. on Wed. Email Dr. Bland at


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Since 1967, the Carolina Peacemaker has served as North Carolina’s leading news weekly with a national reputation. Founded by Dr. John Kilimanjaro, the newspaper is published by Carolina Newspaper, Inc.

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