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The Popular Over-The-Counter Cold Medicine That Science Says Doesn’t Work

The market for over-the-counter cold medicines is worth $8 billion annually, with a hefty portion of that amount spent on drugs marketed as decongestants. But according to new research, the cash many of us will spend on non-prescription decongestants this cold and flu season won’t help us breathe any easier.

According to University of Florida researchers, the oral decongestant phenylephrine simply doesn’t work at the FDA-approved amount found in popular non-prescription brands, and it may not even work at much higher doses. Their conclusions were presented in an editorial in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, referencing a study in the same edition of the journal conducted by researchers from the Allergy & Asthma Medical Group & Research Center in San Diego.

The study of 539 adults lasted one week and failed to find a dose of phenylephrine within the 10 mg to 40 mg range that was more effective than a placebo in relieving nasal congestion. The approved Food and Drug Administration (FDA) dose is 10 mg every four hours for “temporary relief of nasal congestion.”