Are decongestants safe to use when you’re trying to conceive?

We know people worry about whether or not decongestants like phenylephrine, pseudophedrine, Sudafed, Vicks and nasal sprays have any proven impact on fertility. So, here's what the experts say...

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In a nutshell

Yes – it’s thought to be fine to take over-the-counter decongestants such as Sudafed, Vicks and nasal sprays while you’re trying to conceive.

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There’s no concrete evidence to suggest that decongestant drugs like phenylephrine or pseudophedrine have any impact on fertility.

You can also try options such as:

  • a saline nasal irrigator, like NeilMed
  • (carefully) inhaling steam as a ‘natural’ decongestant
  • drinking lots of water
  • investing in a humidifier.

Remember, decongestants like Sudafed are NOT safe to take during pregnancy.

You may wish to avoid them for this reason, as there may be a period of time where you are pregnant, but don’t yet know you’re expecting.

Why would decongestants affect fertility?

Essentially, decongestants work to shrink swollen blood vessels in the nasal cavity, which is what causes congestion.

Caffeine, also found in tablets like Sudafed, can have a similar effect.

Phenylephrine and pseudophedrine can also cause a bit of dryness in the nose, which can help clear up loads of runny mucus during a cold, or if you have a seasonal allergy.

The rumour goes that these drugs don’t just affect the mucus in your nose, they also affect your cervical mucus.

Cervical mucus is what ‘filters’ and ‘prepares’ sperm at the entrance of the womb, as it travels through the uterus, and heads towards the fallopian tubes for fertilisation to take place.

What do the experts say?

We’d welcome more research on the topic – but right now, experts aren’t convinced decongestants will do any serious harm to anyone trying to conceive.

“I can’t find any good evidence to suggest that decongestants will affect your cervical mucus and prevent conception,” says MFM’s go-to doc, GP Philippa Kaye.

“So if you are really suffering with a cold and trying to conceive then it is probably fine to take for a few days.”

Just because decongestants are safe to take while you’re trying to conceive doesn’t mean you should take them willy nilly, though!

“Nobody should take decongestants for longer than 5-7 days,” Dr Kaye warns, “as they can actually cause a rebound congestion in the nose if used longer than that called rhinitis medicamentosa.”

Dr Janet Choi MD, assistant professor of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at Columbia University Medical Centre, also told The Bump:

“I haven’t found any study that says [decongestants] will really interfere with conception. I don’t think they’ll severely affect your cervical mucus.

“So if a patient is really suffering, I say go ahead and take what will make you feel better.”

Now you know a little bit of Sudafed when you’re desperate on a particularly coldy day likely won’t affect your chances of getting pregnant, you can… breathe easier? ?

Images: Getty Images

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