Finding Pseudoephedrine at the Pharmacy

Pseudoephedrine Moves Behind the Pharmacy Counter

Illustration of people waiting in line at a pharmacy. Vlada Kramina/Ikon Images/Getty Images

That Time of Year Again?

In the midst of the winter season, a time when you're out shopping in a crowded mall, attending an office party or simply spending time with friends and family, you'll also find cold season. Just going about your business can mean being exposed to situations where people often spread the germs that can lead to a cold. You might have a cold if you find yourself coming down with any number of typical symptoms such as headache, body aches, fever, nasal congestion or sinus pressure and pain.

In fact, the common cold is a leading cause of missed work days and doctor visits - costing the economy approximately $40 billion each year . A 2003 University of Michigan study found that common colds interfere with school attendance and can cause lost days on the job, resulting in considerable costs to the economy:

  • 110 million physician visits annually at a cost of $7.7 billion
  • 189 million school days are missed annually
  • 126 million missed workdays by parents who stay home to care for sick children

What Should I Do If I Get Sick?

If you do get sick with a cold, you might want to head straight to the pharmacy counter at your local drug store. That's because a federal law has placed products containing the nasal decongestant pseudoephedrine, or PSE, exclusively behind the pharmacy counter. Requesting a product that contains PSE from your pharmacist is worthwhile, however, because PSE is one of the best ingredients available to treat nasal congestion.

In fact, no other nasal decongestant has been proven to be more effective.

Who Moved My Medicine?

Moving PSE-containing products off store shelves is the result of federal legislation that took effect on September 30, 2006, limiting the sale of products containing PSE to "behind the counter" status.

For consumers, this law impacts the way that they purchase cold and flu treatments.

Some of the over-the-counter medications once found on the shelves at your local pharmacy have been moved behind the pharmacy counter and must be obtained from the store's pharmacist. In many states, consumers are required to present photo identification and sign a log book when purchasing products that contain pseudoephedrine.

What Can I Do to Feel Better?

If you're not sure which product is right for you, talk to your pharmacist. They can explain the benefits and safety of PSE and help recommend a product to treat your symptoms.

Some medications that contain PSE are:

Some more hot tips on how to handle colds:

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Don't drink alcohol
  • Gargle with warm salt water to soothe a sore throat
  • Ask your pharmacist about OTC medications that may be right for you


Fendrick AM, Monto, A. The economic burden of non-influenza related viral respiratory tract infection in the United States. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2003: 163: 487-494.

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