Are over-the-counter cold remedies safe for people who have high blood pressure?

Answer From Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, M.D.

Over-the-counter cold remedies aren't off-limits if you have high blood pressure or take medication for high blood pressure, but it's important to make careful choices. Talk to your doctor before taking any OTC medications or supplements.

Among over-the-counter cold remedies, decongestants cause the most concern for people who have high blood pressure. Decongestants relieve nasal stuffiness by narrowing blood vessels and reducing swelling in the nose. This narrowing can affect other blood vessels as well, which can increase blood pressure.

To keep your blood pressure in check, avoid over-the-counter decongestants and multisymptom cold remedies that contain decongestants — such as pseudoephedrine, ephedrine, phenylephrine, naphazoline and oxymetazoline. Also, check the label for high sodium content, which can also raise blood pressure.

Instead:

  • Choose a cold medication designed for people who have high blood pressure. Some cold medications don't contain decongestants. Avoid medications that have warnings on the label for people who have high blood pressure and those who take blood pressure medications.
  • Take a pain reliever. To relieve a fever, sore throat or headache, or body aches, try aspirin or acetaminophen. Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen (Motrin IB, Advil) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) can also contribute to high blood pressure.
  • Use saline nasal spray. To relieve nasal congestion, try saline nasal spray. The spray can help flush your sinuses.
  • Soothe your throat. To relieve a sore or scratchy throat, gargle with warm salt water or drink warm water with lemon juice and honey. Or try menthol lozenges.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Water, juice, tea and soup can help clear your lungs of phlegm and mucus.
  • Increase the humidity in your home. Use a cool-mist humidifier or vaporizer to moisten the air, which may ease congestion and coughing.
  • Get plenty of rest. If you're not feeling well, take it easy.

Call your doctor if your signs and symptoms get worse instead of better or last more than 10 days.

With

Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, M.D.

May 06, 2021