Sudafed vs Sudafed PE: What’s the Difference?

two prescription bottles with pills next to them
Roni Shye
Roni Shye, PharmD BCGP BCACP, is a licensed pharmacist in the states of Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
Posted on

With a difference of only two letters in their names, Sudafed and Sudafed PE look nearly identical and can be extremely confusing to the unsuspecting patient. Both are used to treat nasal congestion—but they are available in different strengths, have different active ingredients, and are kept in different locations in your pharmacy.

What is nasal congestion?

Nasal congestion is the blockage or inability to breathe clearly through your nose due to swelling in the lining of your nasal passages. It can be due to common cold, hay fever, upper respiratory allergies, or sinus infection.

How are Sudafed and Sudafed PE available?

Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) is available as 30 mg, 60 mg, 120 mg, and 240 mg tablets. Sudafed PE (phenylephrine) is available as a 10mg tablet. Both are also available in combination drugs with other active ingredients.

Put drug prices & coupons in your pocket!
We'll text you a link to download our free Android or iPhone app
Get GoodRx Mobile App

How do Sudafed and Sudafed PE work to relieve nasal congestion?

Both Sudafed and Sudafed PE work by reducing swelling and pressure in your nose through squeezing or constricting the blood vessels in your sinuses. This decrease in swelling will allow for nasal drainage and easier breathing.

What is are the active ingredients in Sudafed and Sudafed PE?

The active ingredient in Sudafed is pseudoephedrine, while the active ingredient in Sudafed PE is phenylephrine. Both are available as generics under the active ingredient names.

Where can you find Sudafed and Sudafed PE products?

Sudafed and pseudoephedrine-containing products will be located behind the counter at your pharmacy, even though they don’t require a prescription in most states. You will also be asked to present a photo ID and sign due to the Combat Methamphetamine Act. Unfortunately, there are restrictions on the sale of pseudoephedrine products due to their use in the street drug known as crystal meth. It is also important to know that depending on your state, pseudoephedrine products may require a prescription from your doctor.

Check out this article for more information on Sudafed and your state laws.

Sudafed PE and phenylephrine products, however, are readily available in your local pharmacy or grocery store aisles and do NOT have the same restrictions.

Sudafed is more of a hassle—but are there any advantages over Sudafed PE?

Yes. Most patients and healthcare providers will agree that Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) is more effective for congestion than its counterpart Sudafed PE (phenylephrine).

This is likely due to the fact that the intestines will absorb only about 38% of the amount of Sudafed PE in one tablet, while Sudafed is 100% absorbed. Also, the effects of Sudafed PE do not last as long—Sudafed can be taken every 4 to 6 hours while Sudafed PE needs to be taken a little bit more often, every 4 hours.

You can find more information here.

Drugs featured in this story

Filed under