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Cold medicine shortage? What fmr. US Surgeon General and WISH med. expert says about FDA move on decongestants

Health Spotlight: FDA confirms decongestant in cold medications doesn’t work

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — An ingredient in many over-the-counter allergy and cold medicines is ineffective in tablet form, an independent advisory committee to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration agreed Tuesday.

News 8 asked Dr. Jerome Adams, the WISH-TV medical expert and a former U.S. surgeon general, to weigh in on the decision.

“The specific ingredient is phenylephrine. It’s the PE that you’ll often see on Sudafed, DayQuil and other over-the-counter medications for cold, flu, sinus relief.

“And a bit of history, they originally used to put pseudoephedrine in these medications, and it was found that the pseudoephedrine was being diverted so that people could make methamphetamine. Then medications that contained pseudoephedrine were moved from over the counter to behind the counter, and the companies essentially pivoted to put phenylephrine into these medications instead of pseudoephedrine so that their medications could be again available to folks over the counter.”

So, is phenylephrine dangerous to take if it doesn’t work?

“Well, what’s interesting is that sometimes it takes a while to get the studies done to give us a definitive answer to questions like that.

“And more and more studies have come around showing that phenylephrine, No. 1, actually is no more effective than placebo, and that’s what the FDA actually said, meaning a fake medication at relieving nasal congestion.

“Phenylephrine is actually a blood-pressure medication. We use it in the operating room — I’m an anesthesiologist, as many people know — to help raise your blood pressure if your blood pressure is too low. So if you take too much of it, it can cause your blood pressure to go up and it can be dangerous in certain people, which is why the FDA said, look, the benefits do not outweigh the risks for continuing to allow this medication to be and cough and cold medications.”

Should people stop using the cold and allergy medicines with phenylephrine?

“No 1, if you don’t have high blood pressure already, then it is unlikely that these medications are going to harm you in a significant way. I mean, look, they’ve been over the counter for years now. And so if you still have any old DayQuil, any old Sudafed, it’s still going to be OK in most cases for people to continue to use those. You don’t need to throw that out.

“But what we’re going to see is those medications being pulled off the shelves and no longer being sold with phenylephrine in them.”

The doctor said the cold and allergy medicines with phenylephrine could be removed from retailers’ shelves, causing people to find other medicines that have decongestants in them, such as nasal sprays.

“We are, in fact, concerned going into the winter that you may see shortages of those other medications because the mainstays — the DayQuil, the Sudafed that you typically see on shelves — is no longer gonig to be there moving forward.”

Phenylephrine also is the main ingredient used in Benadryl Allergy Plus Congestion, Vicks Sinex and other medicines.

People can consult their doctors and pharmacists to clarify any confusion on cold and allergy medicines. In addition, Adams said, vaccines for flu are available. Older people may also want to look into getting an RSV vaccine, he said.

Health Spotlight is presented by Community Health Network.