Sudafed Vs. Sudafed PE: What Is The Difference?

In this article, our pharmacist discusses the difference between Sudafed (Pseudoephedrine) and Sudafed PE (Phenylephrine).


What is the difference between Sudafed and Sudafed PE? I don't know which one will work better for me.

Asked by Ducasse On Nov 03, 2017

Answered by
Medical Content Reviewed By PharmacistAnswers Staff

On Nov 03, 2017

While they share a similar name, Sudafed & Sudafed PE have different active ingredients.

Sudafed contains pseudoephedrine while Sudafed PE contains phenylephrine. The change is due to the more restrictive laws regarding pseudoephedrine. Pseduoephedrine can be used as a precursor in the manufacture of illegal methamphetamine, which necessitated more regulation regarding its sale.

In 2005, the 'Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act' was enacted in the United States to more strongly regulate sales of products containing pseudoephedrine. This moved all products containing pseudoephedrine either behind the counter at pharmacies or in locked cases.

Due to this, Sudafed was made available in an alternative formula (as Sudafed PE) that could be purchased over the counter without restriction as it cannot be converted to methamphetamine. 

Sudafed PE (phenylephrine) is not a new drug as it has been used an oral decongestant for over 40 years. The problem is that it is not nearly as effective as pseudoephedrine. It is not absorbed as well and it doesn't last as long either. A common complaint of patients is that Sudafed PE doesn't work as well as Sudafed.

Fortunately, if you have tried Sudafed PE and it is not working as well as the original Sudafed for you, you can still purchase Sudafed at your pharmacy counter. You will just be required to show ID and you will be entered into a database that tracks purchase

About the Pharmacist

Dr. Brian Staiger Pharm.D

Dr. Brian Staiger is a licensed pharmacist in New York State and the founder of He graduated from the University At Buffalo with a Doctor of Pharmacy degree in 2010. He has been featured in numerous publications including the Huffington Post as well as a variety of health and pharmacy-related blogs. Please feel free to reach out to him directly if you have any inquiries or want to connect! He's answered thousands of medication and pharmacy-related questions and he's ready to answer yours! Office: 716-389-3076

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