There’s something going around and if your work or play takes you around lots of people, chances are you’ve had at least one runny nose or sore throat so far this year. It can be difficult to know what kind of over-the-counter medication to take. There are so many choices and it can be dangerous if you choose the wrong one or medicate for symptoms you don’t have. Here’s a quick guide to the differences, uses, and side effects of antihistamines and decongestants.


Antihistamines block histamines, the chemical in the body that causes you to experience the runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing, and congestion that we often associate with allergies and colds.

Typical antihistamines include brand names like Benadryl, Claritin, Zyrtec, Xyzal, Allegra, and Alavert.

Common side effects for antihistamines include drowsiness (so you shouldn’t drive or operate equipment), dry mouth, and dry nose.


Congestion occurs when the tiny blood vessels in your sinuses, nose, and chest expand. Decongestants shrink the vessels, opening up airways and reducing pressure. Because decongestants are a stimulant, certain people are advised not to use them, including those who have heart irregularities, high blood pressure, galcoma, or heart disease.

Some common brand-name decongestants are Dimetapp, Entex, Propagest, Novafed, and Sudafed.

Side effects of decongestants may include irregular heart beat, insomnia, and overstimulation.

If you’re not sure which medication to take or if you’re experiencing sever side effects, contact your health care professional.


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