A list of the active ingredients from a DayQuil/NyQuil duel pack (Photos by Caroline Evans/Carolina News and Reporter)
Wondering what to pick up if you have a runny nose this flu season? There are fewer options now than in past years.
CVS chose to pull some cold and flu medicines containing phenylephrine from its shelves last week, multiple media outlets reported, after an FDA advisory committee declared the popular over-the-counter nasal decongestant ineffective. The FDA has yet to require the medicine be removed, however.
Phenylephrine is the only true over-the-counter nasal decongestant and is included in the ingredient lists of many cold and flu medications, including DayQuil/NyQuil, Mucinex, Theraflu and Sudafed PE, according to drugs.com.
Consumers still can pick it up at a pharmacy other than CVS. Choosing another medicine is an option, too.
“There are still several options that include decongestant nasal sprays such as oxymetazoline solution, antihistamines (both oral and nasal), and pseudoephedrine (PSE),” John Thorne, a pharmacist at True Pharmacy on Devine Street, told the Carolina News and Reporter.
Some people may use a combination product when they’re sick containing phenylephrine and either an antihistamine, pain medicine or expectorant. To replace a medication, consumers may have to take more than one medicine to achieve the desired effect, Thorne said.
“I always take NyQuil when I’m sick,” University of South Carolina student Hannah Merchant said. “I can’t believe it doesn’t work. I feel like they should’ve figured that out a while ago.”
Thorne does not think phenylephrine will be replaced by a specific drug right now. He said there are still many options available to consumers.
“You may see more products that use antihistamines as the main ingredient to reduce inflammation and congestion,” Thorne said. “But the effectiveness of these products are also somewhat limited when compared to pseudoephedrine and decongestant nasal sprays using medications like oxymetazoline.”
Pseudoephedrine was the common nasal decongestant used in over-the-counter products before phenylephrine was used. Pseudoephedrine is still considered effective, but it is not as accessible. Pseudoephedrine now is kept behind the counter because it’s a key ingredient in illegal meth labs. It’s only available for purchase if a consumer presents a photo ID.
This is not because pseudoephedrine is more dangerous than phenylephrine. In fact, they have many of the same side effects. such as a stimulatory effect, difficulty sleeping and a slight increase in blood pressure, Thorne said.
“Pseudoephedrine requiring an ID for purchase has nothing to do with the safety profile of the drug itself when taken as directed,” he said.
To prepare for cold and flu season aside from purchasing cold and flu medicine, the CDC encourages people to avoid close contact with those who are sick. It also encourages people to stay home when sick, cover their nose and mouth, clean their hands, avoid touching their face and get the flu vaccine.
Thorne encourages consumers to contact their pharmacist if they have questions about how a medicine might affect them.