July 23, 2013

Popular Nasal Decongestants Associated with Birth Defects

Researchers have discovered that there is a very small, but significant association between birth defects and use of nasal decongestants in the first trimester of pregnancy. Unfortunately, decongestants (ie sudafed, afrin, etc) are also one of the most popular medications purchased over-the-counter to treat symptoms of nasal congestion, runny nose, and allergies.

In particular, three strong associations were found:

Phenylephrine and endocardial cushion defects
Phenylpropanolamine and ear defects
• Phenylpropanolamine and pyloric stenosis

Although these associations were related to ORAL decongestant use and first trimester intake, it was also found that intra-nasal decongestant use during the first trimester was associated with pyloric stenosis and tracheo-esophageal fistula.

Taken in summary, it is perhaps ideal that women in their first trimester of pregnancy avoid decongestant use due to a possible association between birth defects and medication usage. This association accounts for a VERY small percentage increase in birth defects and as such more study is needed.

For example, the baseline prevalence of endocardial cushion defect is 0.34 per 1,000 live births. Phenylephrine exposure increases this risk 8-fold resulting in 2.7 per 1,000 live births. That's an overall increased risk of only 0.27%.

Keep in mind that all these over-the-counter products contain a decongestant ingredient:

• Afrin
• Sudafed
• Tylenol Cold Multi-Symptom Nighttime
• Alka-Seltzer Plus Cold
• Delsym Night Time Multi-Symptom
• Tylenol Cold Multi-Symptom Severe
• Tylenol Cold & Flu Severe
• Vicks Dayquil Cold & Flu Relief
• Benadryl Allergy Plus Sinus Headache
• Theraflu Warming Relief Nighttime Severe Cold & Cough
• Vicks Nyquil Sinus
• Acutrim
• Dexatrim
• Afrin
• Zicam
etc, etc, etc

So what is a pregnant woman to do if her nose gets all stuffed up and wants to avoid decongestant medications to eliminate any possible risk of birth defects? Click here for some suggestions.

Use of Decongestants During Pregnancy and the Risk of Birth Defects. Am. J. Epidemiol. (2013) doi: 10.1093/aje/kws427
Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.

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