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What is Pseudoephedrine?

Mary McMahon
Updated: May 17, 2024

Pseudoephedrine is a pharmaceutical compound which is added to some decongestant and cold products to help reduce congestion and inflammation. This drug may be prescribed by a doctor, or purchased over the counter in a pharmacy for the relief of cold symptoms. A number of products contain pseudoephedrine in various concentrations, with Sudafed® being a particularly well-known brand of decongestant which contains this compound. When the compound is present, it is listed in the active ingredients on the box.

This drug acts on the body by constricting the blood vessels, which leads to reduced inflammation and congestion in the nasal passages and Eustachian tubes. People can buy time-release capsules which slowly release the medicine into the body, or regular dosage capsules or liquid for more fast acting relief. Pseudoephedrine tends to be more effective than many topical anticongestants, as well as some formulations taken by mouth.

Side effects of pseudoephedrine can include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, nervousness, an increased heart rate, and an elevated blood pressure. High blood pressure is one of the most common side effects, because of the constriction of blood vessels which occurs as a result of taking this medication. The drug can also have severe interactions with antidepressants, beta blockers, and MAO inhibitors, and it is not recommended for use in pregnant and breastfeeding women or people with diabetes.

Although drugs which contain pseudoephedrine are available over the counter, it is still a good idea to get advice from a doctor or pharmacist about the best use of this medication. Children in particular are very sensitive to pseudoephedrine, and overdosing can be fatal. The drug also interacts with a number of medications and underlying medical conditions such as heart problems, which can make it dangerous for use in many people. It's also important to follow the dosage recommendations on the packaging, to ensure that the drug is not accidentally abused.

Pseudoephedrine is also a precursor to methamphetamine, a stimulant which is banned by law in many regions of the world. In the United States in particular, the manufacture and sale of methamphetamine has become a very big problem, and sales of drugs which contain pseudoephedrine have been restricted. People who wish to purchase drugs with this compound generally need to present identification and sign a sales log, and the amount they are allowed to purchase will be restricted. Many drug companies have decided to reformulate their decongestant medications to remove pseudoephedrine in response to concerns about methamphetamine production.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon60541 — On Jan 14, 2010

I suspect drug abuse by a friend who is constantly spending the same amount of money on his debit card at the pharmacy. He has a history of drug abuse and I am concerned. I suspect pseudoephedrine because the transactions match the amount this product cost.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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