Available in the form of popular over-the-counter (OTC) medications, pseudoephedrine products frequently make pharmacist-recommended lists as top sellers, alongside acid reducers, acne treatments, and athlete’s foot creams.
People seek out pseudoephedrine products like Sudafed, Mucinex, and Claritin to provide relief for common ailments such as stuffy nose and sinus pain. What’s more, these OTC medicines fulfill a vital niche.
These off-the-shelf medications, which do not require a prescription, provide symptomatic relief for an estimated 60 million people who would not otherwise seek treatment, according to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA).
Also, reports the CHPA, as more prescription allergy medicines have become OTC medicines, people have shifted toward using these more affordable products. The number of allergy sufferers who use OTCs like pseudoephedrine had gone from 66 percent in 2009 to 75 percent in 2015.
As with other medications of the prescription and OTC variety, negative consequences can result when they are not used as directed.
This is particularly the case with pseudoephedrine products. A woman who uses decongestant medications like pseudoephedrine while in the first trimester of pregnancy could potentially raise the risk of her unborn child experiencing birth defects, according to this study.
Read on to learn more about the specific dangers pseudoephedrine can pose to women who are pregnant.
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Pseudoephedrine has been in existence since the 1920s. While it occurs naturally in plants, the majority of pseudoephedrine that is produced comes from yeast fermentation of dextrose in the presence of benzaldehyde, according to the Pharmacy Times.
Pseudoephedrine is comprised of stimulant compounds and is of the phenethylamine and amphetamine chemical classes. This medication can narrow blood vessels to decrease swelling and congestion. It also shrinks swollen nasal mucous membranes, which is why it is employed as a decongestant.
Pseudoephedrine products provide temporary relief for stuffy nose and sinus pain caused by the common cold, flu, hay fever, and bronchitis. Pseudoephedrine comes as itself or in combination with other medications.
It is also available as a liquid solution, tablet, and as 12- and 24-hour extended-release tablets. Regular formulations of pseudoephedrine tablets or liquid should be taken every four to six hours. The 12-hour release tablets should be taken every 12 hours, and you should not take more than one dose of the 24-hour extended-release variation.
According to MedlinePlus, the brand names for pseudoephedrine medications include the following:
Pseudoephedrine has stimulant effects. Recreational users report that it produces excitable, hyperactive feelings. Because it is a stimulant, it increases the heart rate and blood pressure. However, pseudoephedrine carries a low risk of dependence, and users are unlikely to experience withdrawal symptoms when they cease use.
That does not mean pseudoephedrine does not come without uncomfortable side effects. They can incluvde:
It should be noted that food and drinks that contain large amounts of caffeine can make these side effects worse.
Non-prescription cough and cold combination products can produce serious side effects or death in young children.
Special care should be taken when administering pseudoephedrine or pseudoephedrine combination products to them. Children younger than 4 should not take pseudoephedrine medicines. Extended-release pseudoephedrine tablets should not be given to children younger than age 12.
Should a child between the ages of 4 and 11 need to take a pseudoephedrine medication, parents or guardians should use caution and follow the package directions carefully.
There is a debate about whether pseudoephedrine poses a danger to pregnant women who take the medication. MedlinePlus, a resource provided by the National Institute of Health, states that pregnant women should consult their doctor before taking it.
However, a small study did reveal that OTC decongestants containing pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine were individually linked to birth defects of the digestive tract, ear, and heart.
The study looked at babies born with birth defects from 1993 to 2010 and included interviews of 12,700 moms of those babies.
“The associations we identified involved defects that generally affect less than 1 per 1,000 infants. Some of them may require surgery, but not all are life-threatening,” stated one of the study’s authors who was quoted in Reuters.
The Pharmacy Times states that because pseudoephedrine narrows the blood vessels, it can reduce blood flow to the uterus, which may be responsible for the presence of birth defects in the first trimester of pregnancy.
For women who are taking pseudoephedrine while breastfeeding, a small amount of the medication is excreted in the breast milk. The biggest effect of breastfeeding while on pseudoephedrine is that it can decrease milk production, according to the Pharmacy Times.
The bottom line is that if you are taking pseudoephedrine or are considering taking pseudoephedrine, use caution and consult your doctor.
Taking any substance while pregnant and doing so outside of package directions or against doctor advice is dangerous.
Abusing pseudoephedrine by itself or taking it with other substances like alcohol requires professional addiction treatment, for the safety of you and your baby.
Substance abuse treatment can provide a multilevel solution to drug misuse and addiction. This is especially the case with substances such as alcohol, opioids, benzodiazepines, prescription, and OTC drugs like pseudoephedrine.
Finally, after treatment is completed, we can connect you to a recovery community and resources that can support you via through an alumni program.
(n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.chpa.org/marketstats.aspx
Doyle, K. (2013, July 23). Decongestants in pregnancy linked to birth defects. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-decongestants-pregnancy/decongestants-in-pregnancy-linked-to-birth-defects-idUSBRE96M13S20130723
Martinez, P. A. (2013, July 23). Don't Take Decongestants While Pregnant: Birth Defect Risk. Retrieved from https://www.parents.com/pregnancy/everything-pregnancy/dont-take-decongestants-while-pregnant-birth-defect-risk/
Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) – Side Effects, Dosage, Interactions – Drugs. (2015, January 12). Retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/drugs/pseudoephedrine
Pseudoephedrine: MedlinePlus Drug Information. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682619.html#precautions
Yau, W., Mitchell, A. A., Lin, K. J., Werler, M. M., & Hernández-Díaz, S. (2013, July 15). Use of decongestants during pregnancy and the risk of birth defects. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3816336/