clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Why useless decongestants are still for sale

Phenylephrine doesn’t work better than a placebo. So why is it still on shelves?

Phil Edwards is a senior producer for the Vox video team.

If you’ve taken an over-the-counter decongestant in the past 20 years, you’ve probably taken something with phenylephrine as the main active ingredient. And you may have noticed that, despite taking it, you’re still congested. A Food and Drug Administration panel recently recommended that it be taken off shelves because it doesn’t work any better than a placebo. But what happened and why is it still available for purchase?

In the above video, Vox senior producer Phil Edwards chronicles the history of the FDA’s regulation of over-the-counter medicines. That process is the reason that, despite decades of evidence that phenylephrine doesn’t work (especially in typical OTC doses), it has remained a readily available option for clogged-up consumers.

You can find the video above and the entire library of Vox’s videos on YouTube.