6 Major Cold & Allergy Medicines That Don’t Work

by Dominique Lambright

If you get ill with the sniffles this season, you might be motivated to create a workaround for your go-to treatment.

Widely Sold Oral Decongestants

In a unanimous decision, a panel from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded that phenylephrine, the active component in approximately 300 million units of over-the-counter drugs, did not actually function. According to Mark Dykewicz, MD, professor and department chief of allergy and immunology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, “modern trials, when carefully performed, are not demonstrating any improvement in congestion with phenylephrine.” The committee found that oral preparations were the least effective.

Phenylephrine, frequently branded as “PE,” is present in medications such as Sudafed PE, Vicks DayQuil and NyQuil Sinex Nighttime Sinus Relief, Robitussin Peak Cold Nighttime Nasal Relief, Mucinex Sinus-Max, Theraflu, and Benadryl Allergy Plus Congestion.

The chemical came into its own in the early 2000s as a substitute for pseudoephedrine, which was relocated behind the counter to limit its misuse as an ingredient to produce methamphetamine. A reported 80 percent of the oral decongestant category is made up of this ingredient. However, for a more natural route to better breathing, here are some congestion solutions recommended.

Tochi Iroku-Malize, MD, MPH, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians and founding chair and professor of family medicine at Hofstra/Northwell in Hempstead, New York, says that the first stages in combating respiratory infection are straightforward. To minimize dehydration and assist in removing mucus, Dr. Iroku-Malize recommends obtaining enough rest, not smoking, and drinking plenty of water.

Run A Humidifier

Mucus can be thinned and sinus irritation reduced by using a humidifier or cool-mist vaporizer. 

Consider Trying Nasal Irrigation

Using a neti pot or another device to rinse your nasal passages will help wash out your sinuses and help release heavy mucus. Whenever possible, it is recommended that patients drink sterile water, which has been boiled for three to five minutes, or distilled water.

Saline or saltwater nose drops can also help remove nasal mucus and improve airflow.

You can relieve nasal pressure and inflammation by inhaling the steam in a hot shower. It takes effort, but you’ll feel much better if you push yourself. You might also try resting your face on a heated cloth for a few minutes.

Spice Things Up

Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency medicine instructor at New York’s Lenox Hill Hospital, says: The following four dietary additives have been shown to increase mucus production and cause nasal congestion:

  • Red pepper flakes
  • garlic
  • turmeric powder
  • fresh ginger

As a result, nasal congestion will be relieved, and mucus will have an easy way to escape.

Diffuse Essential Oils

Dr. Glatter believes eucalyptus, peppermint, and rosemary oils may help for up to three days. A diffuser can be used for aromatherapy. When added to hot water and inhaled, eucalyptus oil “seems to hold the most promise,” he says.

Prop Up Your Head When You Sleep

Sleeping with a couple of additional pillows can assist in a clear nose and sinus passages, as congestion is generally at its greatest while lying down.

Drink More Fluids

Dr. Glatter explains that increasing fluid consumption will help release heavy mucus obstructing nasal and sinus passageways, thus mom was correct all along. If you’re feeling stuffy, try drinking a warm beverage.

Know When To Call Your Doctor

According to Dr. Iroku-Malize, the majority of cold and flu symptoms, including congestion, clear up on their own within a week. Make an appointment with your primary care physician if your symptoms, such as difficulty breathing or a fever, persist.