What Is Pseudoephedrine, And What Is It Used For?

Your nose is congested from a cold or allergies, and you’re looking for an effective nasal decongestant. Pseudoephedrine offers congestion relief, but why are products with this ingredient sold behind the counter? Does the ingredient work? Is it effective? To help answer these questions, let’s take a deeper dive into this active ingredient, its uses and how to buy pseudoephedrine-containing products.

Pharmacist showing behind-the-counter medicine to a patient

What Is Pseudoephedrine?

Pronounced soodōˈefədrēn, pseudoephedrine is an active ingredient in nasal decongestant products available behind the pharmacy counter. These medicines help temporarily relieve sinus pressure and congestion and nasal congestion due to the common cold, hay fever or other upper respiratory allergies.

As a decongestant, pseudoephedrine acts on nasal passageways to narrow blood vessels that are causing nasal congestion. When the blood vessels in the nose and sinus region narrow, tissue shrinks to allow the normal flow of air and mucus, making breathing easier. By shrinking swollen tissues, pseudoephedrine helps relieve nasal congestion due to the common cold, hay fever or other upper respiratory allergies.

What Is Pseudoephedrine Used For?

Symptoms pseudoephedrine relieves include:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Sinus congestion
  • Sinus pressure

Pseudoephedrine is commonly paired with different ingredients, such as NSAIDs or acetaminophen. When paired with acetaminophen or other active ingredients, like in Extra Strength TYLENOL® Cold + Flu Multi-Action Day/Night Caplets temporary symptom relief can include the following:

  • Fever reduction
  • Minor aches and pains
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Nasal congestion
  • Cough
  • Relief from sinus congestion and pressure

Why Are Pseudoephedrine-Containing Medicines Only Available For Behind-The-Counter Purchase?

Because pseudoephedrine is of the amphetamine chemical class, it has been misused for illicit methamphetamine manufacture. This potential misuse is why decongestant products with the active ingredient, pseudoephedrine, are housed behind the counter at your local drug store. Don’t let this placement scare you—when used as directed, pseudoephedrine-containing products are safe and offer powerful symptom relief.

So, what does it mean if a product is behind the counter at a retailer? “Behind-the-counter” is when consumers don’t have direct access to products they want to buy, and a pharmacy employee is needed to complete the purchase.

Retailers and federal law control the sale of products containing this active ingredient, primarily limiting the quantity purchased by an individual within daily and monthly time frames. Restrictions also require a minimum age and use of government-issued photo ID when purchasing from behind the counter.

The Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 requires stores to retain personal information of purchasers for a minimum of two years.

If you’re looking to purchase a pseudoephedrine-based product, chat with your pharmacist or doctor.

Pseudoephedrine Warnings and Side Effects: Is It Safe?

When used as directed, pseudoephedrine is recognized by the FDA as a safe and effective treatment option for congestion relief related to the common cold, flu and allergies. Do not use if you are now taking a prescription monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI), which are certain drugs for depression, psychiatric/emotional conditions, or Parkinson’s Disease, or for two weeks after stopping the MAOI drug. If you do not know if your prescription drug contains an MAOI, ask a doctor or pharmacist before taking this product. Ask a doctor before using pseudoephedrine if you have any of the following:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Thyroid disease
  • Diabetes
  • Trouble urinating due to an enlarged prostate gland

There are some side effects associated with pseudoephedrine. Stop use, and ask a doctor if:

  • Nervousness, dizziness or sleeplessness occur
  • Symptoms do not improve within 7 days or occur with a fever

If pregnant or breast-feeding, ask a health professional before use. If you are using a multi-ingredient product containing pseudoephedrine, always read and follow the product label. When using this product, do not exceed the recommended dose.

Dosing Information For Extra Strength TYLENOL® Cold + Flu Multi-Action Caplets

For both Day and Night caplets, do not take more than directed, and ask a doctor for children under 12 years old. Dosing is as follows for adults and children 12 years and over:

  • Take two caplets every six hours while symptoms last
  • Do not take more than six caplets in 24 hours, unless directed by a doctor
  • Do not use for more than 10 days, unless directed by a doctor
  • Do not take the Day caplet and Night caplet at the same time

If you’re looking for pseudoephedrine dosage, always read and follow the product label to understand how to use a pseudoephedrine-containing product. For more information, go to Extra Strength TYLENOL® Cold + Flu Multi-Action Caplets.