Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

Flu Congestion in Adults

Home treatment measures for congestion in adults with influenza include general measures and medications. Medications include oral decongestants, decongestant nasal sprays and antihistamines.

General Measures

  • Blow your nose gently. Forceful blowing can cause pain and bleeding.
  • Apply petroleum jelly to the nostrils if the skin becomes dry.
  • Drink plenty of liquids.
  • Place a vaporizer or nebulizer in the bedroom at night.
  • Use saline (saltwater) nose spray, such as Ocean Nasal Mist: saline helps to keep the lining of nasal passages moist. Saline may be used to flush the nasal passages:
    • Lie on your back and tilt your head back.
    • Apply 2- 4 drops of saline in one on nostril, then wait 1 minute.
    • Blow your nose.
    • Repeat in the other nostril.

Oral Decongestants
Oral decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed), help to thin the mucus responsible for the congestion. Decongestants are safe for adults and adolescents.

Decongestant precautions:

Decongestant Sprays
Decongestant nasal sprays, such as pseudoephedrine (Afrin) can relieve congestion faster than oral medications.

Examples include:
  • Afrin Nasal Spray
  • Duration Nasal Spray
  • Four-Way Fast Nasal Spray
  • Neo-Synephrine Nasal Spray
  • Vicks Sinex Nasal Spray

Precautions include:
  • Do not use decongestant nasal sprays for longer than 3 days. After three days, the nasal tissues become dependent on the medication. When the medication is stopped, the nasal tissue swells and congestion worsens.

Antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) brompheniramine and chlorpheniramine, dry nasal tissue.

Examples include:

Antihistamine precautions:

Continue to Flu Congestion in Children

Last Updated: Dec 16, 2010 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Flu References
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
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  3., HHS Interagency Public Affairs Group on Influenza Preparedness and Response
  4. Jefferson T, Smith S, Demicheli V, Harnden A, Rivetti A, Di Pietrantonj C. Assessment of the efficacy and effectiveness of influenza vaccines in healthy children: systematic review. Lancet. 2005 Feb 26-Mar 4;365(9461):773-80. [15733718]
  5. Montalto NJ. An office-based approach to influenza: clinical diagnosis and laboratory testing. Am Fam Physician. 2003 Jan 1;67(1):111-8. [12537174]
  6. Strategy for Off-Site Rapid Triage(c) (SORT) and Real-time Epidemiological Assessment for Community Health(c) (REACH), Emory University, Principal Investigators: Alexander Isakov, MD, MPH; Arthur Kellermann, MD, MPH, Collaboration with the Emory at Grady Health Literacy Team (Ruth Parker, MD; Kara Jacobson, MPH, CHES; Lorenzo DiFrancesco, MD)
  7. VHA Office of Public Health Surveillance and Research; Influenza Algorithm Work Group
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