PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Just as cold and allergy season is kicking up, FDA advisors said this week that a popular over the counter decongestant doesn’t actually work.

The FDA could potentially move to have the ingredient, phenylephrine, removed from the market and pulled from store shelves.

“I’m not sure exactly what prompted this sudden ‘it doesn’t work’ from the FDA, but there’s been evidence, soft evidence for a long time about that,” said EVMS ear, nose and throat specialist Dr. Ashley Schroder.

When taken orally, Schroder said phenylephrine gets metabolized in the intestine first, so very little gets to your blood stream.

“I always tell patients to ask for the Sudafed they keep behind the counter ’cause that’s what you need,” Schroeder said.

That product, and others, contain pseudoephedrine. The other decongestant was put behind pharmacy counters about 20 years ago because it can be used to make methamphetamine.
That’s when phenylephrine became popular because you don’t have to show an ID to get it.

“I don’t think any harm has been done by people taking these medications, other than harm to their checkbooks,” Schroeder said.

And so you don’t waste any more money, Schroeder suggested you may be able to stop a stuffy nose before it starts.

“Saline, saline, saline,” she said. “I can’t say that enough. It’s a great product and just salt water nasal spray or salt water nasal rinses really help alleviate a lot of the symptoms.”

Saline can be used as often as you like because you cannot overdose on it, the doctor said. She recommended starting that, and/or a once a day, use a corticosteroid spray such as Flonase or Nasacort if you suffer from fall allergies because weed pollens are starting to pop in Hampton Roads.