Although numerous over-the-counter medications are available to treat nasal congestion, or a stuffy nose, a prescription decongestant may be necessary in cases of serious cold or chronic conditions. Nasal congestion occurs when blood vessels inside the nose become inflamed and swell. The mucus that occurs is a symptom, rather than the cause, of the congestion. Congestion is normally the result of an infection triggered by a cold, sinusitis, hay fever or the flu. Prescription decongestants are most effective for short term treatment of colds.
Desloratadine is the generic version of Clarinex, a type of antihistamine. Antihistamines are drugs that effectively control the effects of histamine, which is a chemical in the body that can cause inflammation. Not only does desloratadine treat congestion, it also relieves many symptoms associated with chronic allergies, such as hives, red eyes and runny nose. Desloratadine is available as a pill, a dissoluble pill and a liquid. As with other prescription drugs, desloratadine has potential side effects, including headaches, sore throat, dizziness, muscle pain and painful menstruation in women.
Triamcinolone is the active ingredient in many prescription decongestants, including Nasacort, Kenacort, Tristoject, Aristocort and Fougera. Triamcinolone is an effective decongestant because it provides excellent treatment for inflammation. Physicians also prescribe it to treat arthritis, colitis, and numerous skin disorders. Triamcinolone is a corticosteroid, a hormone involved in many physiological functions. Over time, corticosteroids can weaken the body's immune system. Triamcinolone should only be used under a doctor's supervision.
Guaifenesin is the active ingredient in a number of over-the-counter medications such as Mucinex. In higher doses, it is available as a prescription decongestant in drugs like Entex LA. Guaifenesin is available as a tablet, a liquid and an extended-release, or long-acting, tablet. A patient taking guaifenesin should be certain to drink lots of fluids, as the medication can be dehydrating. Side effects are generally mild but may include nausea and headache.
Prescription decongestants such as Allegra, Telfast and Tilfur contain fexofenadine. Physicians can safely prescribe fexofenadine to children as young as 6-months-old. Fexofenadine is also used to treat skin rashes, itchy skin and allergy symptoms. It is available as a tablet and a liquid. Children should take fexofenadine with water rather than juice to maximize its effectiveness. Side effects include body aches and pains, headaches, diarrhea and vertigo. On rare occasions, serious side effects can occur. A patient should seek medical attention immediately if she experiences breathing difficulties or swelling of the throat or extremities after taking fexofenadine.
- "Evidence Based Nursing"; Review: A Single Dose of Nasal Decongestant Reduces Congestion in the Short Term; Ruth Martin Misener, N.P., Ph.D.; January 2005
- "Physician's Desk Reference"; PDR Staff; November 2008