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French medicines authority warns against some common cold medications

Some of these medicines are vasoconstrictors, and can in rare instances cause strokes, heart attacks and psychiatric issues

An image of a brunette woman blowing her nose

The Agence nationale des médicaments has warned against certain vasoconstrictor cold medications Pic: wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock

France’s national medicines authority has issued a warning that certain medications used frequently to treat the common cold could, in rare circumstances, cause dangerous side effects.

The Agence nationale des médicaments (ANSM) has released a statement alerting people to the potential risks of taking vasoconstrictor medications including: 

  • Actifed Lp Rhinite Allergique

  • Actifed Rhume

  • Actifed Rhume jour et nuit

  • Dolirhume Paracétamol and Pseudoéphédrine

  • Dolirhumepro Paracétamol Pseudoéphédrine and Doxylamine

  • Humex Rhume

  • Nurofen Rhume

  • Rhinadvil Rhume Ibuprofène/ Pseudoéphédrine

  • Rhinadvilcaps Rhume Ibuprofène/ Pseudoéphédrine

  • Rhinureflex

  • Rhumagrip

These medicines work to unblock your nose by combining vasoconstrictor properties with an analgesic such as paracetamol or an antihistamine. 

Some of them are accessible without needing a prescription, but people should be aware of the very rare but serious side effects they can cause. 

Vasoconstrictors prompt blood vessels to narrow and blood pressure to rise, and so in some cases can result in strokes, psychiatric issues and heart attacks, health problems which can occur no matter the dose or the duration of exposure. 

In addition to this, these medications should not be taken by pregnant or breastfeeding women, or by babies under 15 months of age. 

If you do take a vasoconstrictor drug you should be aware of how you are feeling. If you begin to experience symptoms that may be related to the above side effects, you should stop taking the medicine immediately and contact your doctor. 

Further information on the signs of a potential heart attack, stroke or psychiatric issue can be found in this ANSM information document (in French). 

In general, those choosing to take a vasoconstrictor should: 

  • Make sure their pharmacist is aware of their medical history before they begin 

  • Follow the dosage recommended by your pharmacist

  • Stop taking the medication after five days

  • Not use these treatments in conjunction with another vasoconstrictor 

It should also be noted that colds will go away on their own after seven to 10 days, and that these medicines will not make you recover faster - they can just alleviate some symptoms. 

Related stories 

‘Medicines to avoid in 2022’ list published by French wmedical review

Why are ‘medicines to avoid’ allowed to stay in circulation in France?

Antibiotic use in France dropped by almost 20% over Covid crisis

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