New Rules for OTC Cold Relief 

Two over-the-counter (OTC) nasal decongestants are commonly used to relieve nasal congestion and runny nose when people have a common cold. These medications are phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine. They are both available without a prescription, but you'll have to ask the pharmacist or clerk if you want medications containing pseudoephedrine.  

In 2006, the FDA put in place strict rules for the sale of pseudoephedrine. This nasal decongestant, used in a lot of cold and allergy remedies, can also be used to make the illegal, highly addictive drug methamphetamine. OTC products with pseudoephedrine are kept behind pharmacy or customer service counters or in locked cabinets. There, employees can keep track of them.

Both medications are generally safe when used as directed. Some people find that pseudoephedrine works better to relieve congestion than phenylephrine. Due to the restrictions, however, be prepared to put up with some restrictions if you want to use a product with pseudoephedrine. 

Photo ID will be required

That means you may face unexpected hassles as you sneeze and sniffle. Decongestants found in nonprescription products contain pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine. You'll have to ask your pharmacist or a store worker for medications that include pseudoephedrine. They'll ask to see your photo identification. You'll find products containing phenylephrine on the store shelves where you can help yourself.

Stores must keep a written log of people who buy products with pseudoephedrine. And they will limit what you buy; how much depends on the formulation and dosing of the product you are buying. Ask your pharmacist for details.

Shop with care if you buy the OTC decongestants that are on the shelves, because the names of products containing pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine may be similar and can be confusing. A lot of drug makers changed their cold and allergy formulas to get rid of pseudoephedrine so you could buy them with no trouble. They switched to the other decongestant, phenylephrine. Companies can use up to 10 mg of phenylephrine in OTC medication without doing new studies to prove if they are effective.

More research needed

Experts disagree on whether phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine work equally well. Some experts say that OTC doses of phenylephrine won't help stuffy noses. They say studies are needed to find out if phenylephrine is safe and effective at higher doses.

Pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine have been used as decongestants in OTC medications for many years, but few medical researchers have directly compared them in people with stuffy noses. The choice of using a medication containing pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine is an individual choice. If you are uncertain, your pharmacist or doctor can help you determine which may work best for you. 

Medications don't cure colds or allergies. But they can help ease symptoms and make you feel more comfy. If you need help sorting through the changes, talk with your health care provider or pharmacist.