by Katie Tam
PharmD Candidate Class of 2019, University of Arizona
It’s allergy season and you can’t breathe the fresh air because your nose is congested and stuffed. You visit the pharmacy and purchase a box of Sudafed. Your pharmacist asks if you have a history of high blood pressure, and you answer “yes.” The pharmacist replies that she does not recommend Sudafed for you, but why?
What you need to know about Pseudoephedrine:
Brands of common over-the counter decongestants that contain pseudoephedrine: Allegra-D, Alka Seltzer Plus Cold Medicine Liqui-Gels, Aleve Cold and Sinus Caplets, Benadryl Allergy and Sinus Tablets, Claritin-D Non-Drowsy 24 Hour Tablets, Robitussin Cold Severe Congestion Capsules, Sudafed 24 Hour Tablets, SudoGest, Wal-phed 12 hour, Suphedrine.2
Indications: nasal congestion, sinus congestion, and Eustachian tube congestion
Adverse side effects of pseudoephedrine:
- Common: insomnia, nervousness, excitability, dizziness, and anxiety
- Infrequent: tachycardia (rapid heart beat) or palpitations
- Rare: dilated pupils, hallucinations, arrythmias (irregular heartbeat), high blood pressure, seizures, inflammation of the large intestine, and severe skin reactions
Contraindications for pseudoephedrine:
- Diabetes mellitus
- Cardiovascular disease
- Severe or uncontrolled high blood pressure
- Severe coronary artery disease
- Prostatic hypertrophy
- Closed angle glaucoma
- Pregnant women
Pseudoephedrine and High Blood Pressure Interaction
In 2005, a study showed that pseudoephedrine increased systolic blood pressure and heart rate, but had no effect on diastolic blood pressure.1 They also found that higher doses and immediate-release formulations of pseudoephedrine were associated with higher blood pressures.1 In addition, the study revealed that patients with well controlled hypertension had higher systolic and diastolic blood pressures after taking immediate release pseudoephedrine formulations.1
What are safe alternatives to pseudoephedrine in patients with high blood pressure?
There are a few safe and effective alternatives to pseudoephedrine in patients with high blood pressure that can relieve nasal or sinus congestion symptoms. Placing a humidifier in the bedroom keeps moisture in the air, which helps prevent your nasal passages from drying out. Humidifiers can also help break up mucus and soothe inflamed nasal passageways.3 In addition, propping your head up on 2 pillows may help the mucus flow out of your nose and relieve some congestion. Saline sprays are also another safe option that can loosen congestion and improve drainage.3 If a patient with high blood pressure insists on taking a medication that includes pseudoephedrine, their pharmacist or physician will recommend the patient to monitor their blood pressure and take a sustained-release formulation to reduce the risk of increasing blood pressure.3
Next time you have sinus or nasal congestion, ask your physician before using pseudoephedrine if you have high blood pressure. Your local pharmacist can also help manage nasal congestion symptoms, provide valuable information regarding safer alternatives, and ensure optimal drug selection in patients with high blood pressure.
- Salerno SM, Jackson JL, Berbano EP. Effect of Oral Pseudoephedrine on Blood Pressure and Heart Rate: A Meta-analysis. Arch Intern Med. 2005;165(15):1686–1694. doi:10.1001/archinte.165.15.1686.
- Radack KDeck CC Are oral decongestants safe in hypertension? an evaluation of the evidence and a framework for assessing clinical trials. Ann Allergy 1986;56396- 401.
- High Blood Pressure and Cold Remedies: Which Are Safe? Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/expert-answers/high-blood-pressure/faq-20058281. Published January 09, 2019. Accessed January 20, 2019.