There are several conditions associated with upper respiratory system (that is, nose, mouth, and throat) where different types of over-the-counter decongestants and antihistamines are used. The common problems that affect the nose, mouth, and throat are cold and flu during winter, seasonal allergies and hay fever of spring, and summer and so on. These conditions give rise to various uncomfortable symptoms like strep throat, nasal congestion, excessive sneezing, cough, itchy, and watery eyes, etc.
These symptoms are triggered mainly, either due to swelling of the blood vessels inside the nasal cavity, or release of the histamine. It is an antibody, which is basically a chemical. Symptoms like stuffy nose can be treated by both the medicines. However, they are not the same kind of medicines and would have a different effect on the symptoms. Here are some points of difference between the two:
- Histamine is an antibody which, when released, tends to widen up the small blood vessels of the eyes, nose, and skin. As a result, symptoms like itchy red skin, runny nose, sneezing, red and watery eyes show up. In this condition, if antihistamines are administered then it blocks the production of the histamines into the body. Thus, it gives substantial relief from symptoms like sneezing, nasal discharge, itching, nasal congestion, weepy eyes, and more. For faster allergy relief, they should be taken before the onset of the symptoms.
- The most commonly used first generation antihistamines are diphenhydramine and chlorphenamine. Today, there are some more second generation antihistamines available like loratadine, fexofenadine, and cetrizine which have more improved quality.
- Antihistamine side effects involve dizziness and drowsiness. Hence, it should be avoided in the daytime or before doing any such work that requires mental alertness like driving or operating heavy machines. The best time to take them is before going to bed at night.
- Those who are already taking medicines like antidepressants, sedatives, or tranquilizers, should avoid antihistamines. This is because the combined effect of these medicines can have an adverse effect on one's health.
- The blood vessels that are present in the membranes of the nasal passage have the capacity to expand when they come in contact with virus or allergens. During a sinus infection or common cold, they undergo expansion producing large amount of fluid and mucus. This results in fullness and congestion in the nose that makes breathing difficult. In this condition, the decongestant helps in reducing the swelling and narrowing down of the dilated blood vessels. Thus, the air passage opens up and brings about an improvement in the airflow through it.
- Earlier, Phenylpropanolamine (PPA) was popularly used, however, now it is avoided due to the health risks involved with it. Now, pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine are the two most commonly used decongestants.
- Decongestants act as stimulants and increases the pulse rate which makes it difficult to fall asleep. Hence, it should be taken during the day time and one should avoid taking them before going to bed.
- As constriction of blood vessels occur due to its intake, it should be avoided by people with high blood pressure, heart diseases, thyroid problems, or glaucoma.
Furthermore, one needs to be aware that neither of these over-the-counter medicines should be used for a long time. In case the symptoms last longer (more than just a few days), one should visit a doctor for further treatment. Moreover, those having pre-existing medical problems should also consult their doctor before taking these medicines.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.