The Sudafed Test for ADHD

Warning: the following post is not provided by a medical practitioner. Follow it at your own risk, under guidance of your doctor. If you have high blood pressure, or a history of heart problems, you probably shouldn't do this. Follow all instructions on the packet. I don't assume any liability for any problems that this may cause - again, do so at your own risk.

Now that that's out of the way, here's how I found out that I had ADD. Or some form of anxiety that mimics ADD in nearly all of its symptoms, such that ultimately it's pretty much exactly the same thing. Or so my Doc tells me.

I had a cold for a week, so I was taking an over the counter cold remedy which contained a decongestant. The weird thing was that I noticed that at the end of the cold, I was a lot more alert and awake than I had been before I even had a cold. Which got me thinking...

I tried an experiment. At first, I tried taking it at night, figuring that - since I have cats, and I'm allergic to them - it might be a pretty good idea to rule out allergies as being why I was tired all the time. I added in a new-class antihistamine (the ones which don't make you drowsy) to the mix, and it seemed to help a bit. Not tremendously, but at least a little.

I did this for a few weeks, and then one day - I can't remember why - I tried taking Sudafed in the morning.

The results were startling. I was able to focus at work much more, wasn't as tired, and I was happier and more alert. I carried on with this for a month, just to check that what I was seeing wasn't just a one off (I'd had weird experiences like this before - one time I got really bad food poisoning from Denny's, and when I finally recovered, I felt better than I'd ever felt before, period - so I wanted to rule that out).

It worked. Not perfectly, but enough to make me sit back and wonder. I went for sushi with a friend one lunch, and he mentioned that he and his son both had ADHD - and that it was getting worse as he was getting older. This got me thinking - what if I had the same thing? The symptoms are about the same - lack of concentration punctuated by periods of extreme concentration and productivity - also known as hyperfocus.

A little research later, and all of a sudden I had a working theory. Sudafed, you see, works by flushing your system with norepinephrine - its main claim to fame is that it essentially tells your system to pump out as much of the stuff as it can muster. Now, you've only got a limited supply of this stuff hanging around, but your body can synthesize more from L-Tyrosine, an amino acid that you can get into your system in a variety of ways, but my hunch is that eggs and sardines are great sources. (And sardines are an excellent source of calcium and iron, so they're worth eating anyway). However, it does mean that you'll run out of it - which is partly why the Sudafed wears off (the Sudafed itself gets metabolized as well, of course, which also screws things up).

The latest research shows that ADD and ADHD can be helped by pumping more norepinephrine into the brain. This is why the Sudafed trick works - although, unfortunately, it's also a stimulant, so it has other side effects including a faster heart beat, and the jitters. This is why if you decide to go down the same path, you probably shouldn't do it for more than a week, just to see if it works for you or not.

There are better things than Sudafed to cure ADD though. Something a little more... shall we say, industrial strength! It's called Strattera, and it's a Selective Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitor - or SNRI. Unlike Sudafed, it doesn't flush norepinephrine into your system - instead, it prevents your system from breaking down the norepinephrine, allows your brain to basically stew in what you've got. Which means that you're not going to run out. Also, it only acts on the brain (well, and your mucus membranes - which means that for the first time since I was a teenager, I have permanently unclogged nasal passages - in fact, when they start to clog up, I know that I need to pop another Strattera pill).

Armed with this knowledge, I went to a doctor who specialized in ADD. We talked for a while, I presented my findings, and she agreed to put me on the more powerful stuff. My life has changed for the better - I'm no longer as impulsive, I don't have anxiety, and I can focus at work. I also don't get involved in stupid pointless flamewars online any more. I'm still as creative as ever - but my brain's working the way I always thought it should.

So if you think you've got ADD, you might want to give the Sudafed test a shot. And eat more eggs and sardines. ;-)

About the author

Simon Cooke is an occasional video game developer, ex-freelance journalist, screenwriter, film-maker, musician, and software engineer in Seattle, WA.

The views posted on this blog are his and his alone, and have no relation to anything he's working on, his employer, or anything else and are not an official statement of any kind by them (and barely even one by him most of the time).

Archived Wordpress comments
scott wrote on Tuesday, September 13, 2005:

Abso-fucking-lutely Fascinating. Seriously.

I am, at the very moment I type this, in the midst of a norepinephrine information-gathering binge.

Then I stumble onto this page. Amazing.

You see, I’ve been taking a generic Paxil pill to attempt treatment of anxienty I believed was triggered by a car accident my wife and I were victims in. The effects of the pill are noticeable but only moderate after a few months.

As I’m reading your post (& and the other regarding hangovers), I’m blown away with the implications for myself. I exhibit most, if not all, of the things you mention, yet never dared think of, let alone label, myself with the ADD/ADHD nonsense I read and heard about. (I still think the coventional wisdom on the topic is far to simplistic and relies on foolish/archaic assumptions.)

I’m dead serious: snoring, one nostril at a time breathing (since as I long as I can remember!), sensitivity to caffeine (not to mention my frightening experience with an Ephedra-based sports pill… yipes.), the lack of focus then hyperfocus, inconsistent sleep patterns, etc.

In fact, I’m curious if you were ever diagnosed with stress-triggered asthma?

Thank you thank you thank you for the insight.

Rajan Karunakaran wrote on Friday, January 20, 2006:

Simon, how often do you have to use Strattera? Does it have any side-effects?

Simon Cooke wrote on Sunday, January 29, 2006:

I take Strattera twice a day… no side effects so far other than clear sinuses and a clearer mind.

However… there is some risk of liver damage (it’s metabolised by a major choke point that everything else goes through), so my doc is monitoring that to make sure that nothing untoward is happening.

Lisa wrote on Tuesday, February 20, 2007:

Are you still taking Strattera? If so, is it still working for you?

Serena wrote on Wednesday, August 29, 2007:

Simon, I see one of the potential side effects of Strattera in adults is sexual problems. Have you heard of anyone experienceing that on this drug? I was on Prozac once. It helped my anxiety along with depression, but it did squelch the ‘ol love life. I know Prozac works on seritonin, not norepinephrine. I was hoping Strattera wouldn’t ruin the party, so to speak.
I have every freaking symptom you listed and would try the Sudafed but I’m allergic to it!!! Also to Ephedria (same REAllY bad skin allergy). I wonder if Strattera would cause the same reaction.
Thanks in advance

Rosanna Tarsiero wrote on Sunday, April 13, 2008:

Hey Simon,
I discovered it the same way. I got a cold while in the States, took Sudafed and found out that there was a pill who helped me focus!
I tried amphetamines and then Strattera. I love the stuff. I’ve been on Strattera since July 2007 (it’s April 2008 now) and I love it… zero side effect, amazing.

dontshootdamessenger wrote on Tuesday, May 13, 2008:

Hey, I was just diagnosed with ADD today and was given trial test of Straterra. I wanted to know why the hell my nose was no longer stuffed anymore. I have tried almost every allergy medication and none have worked. I was AMAZED. I didn’t know this is how Straterra works. Have any of you had any long term changes yet? I’m still worried about it affecting my brain chemistry and creating tolerance in my neurons. If however, I had ADD that was not efficiently taking norepinephrine, then I would see that now I’m just “normal.” However, if I had normal levels, and now I increased it, then the receptors may change. That is my worry.

Anonymous wrote on Monday, August 25, 2008:


Are you concerned about the possible liver issues ? Can a person just use the Sudafed ? If liver issues were to arise, do you just discontinue the Stattera ?

Jeff wrote on Tuesday, February 17, 2009:

So I got a runny nose this week and popped Sudafed while making a tongue-in-cheek comment to my fiance, “At least I’ll have a productive week at work!”

She didn’t really get it, so I looked online and, BAM! You described exactly the symptoms and experience I have.

I’ve never been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, but feel that I’ve always been a little more creative and/or “out there” than some people. I’m definitely going to get this checked out.

So… now I wonder… I have regular sinus problems, my thoughts are not always clear, I get the same uplifting experience from Sudafed, and I’m a creative person. Sounds like a pattern.

I’ll pose this additional question… Anyone else have abnormal hearing loss? This is another issue I’ve been fighting with since high school.

Great page. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Anonymous wrote on Wednesday, June 24, 2009:

i came across this somehow.

wow. this might be the most irresponsible post i've ever encountered. i'm not sure who should be more ashamed - you, or the people amazed by your posting.

Simon Cooke wrote on Wednesday, June 24, 2009:

You know, instead of just saying “OMG! That's really irresponsible”, you could actually maybe step up, and explain why you feel that way.

Note that I state that you should try this in conjunction with a Doctor's advice. Also that you should follow the instructions on the packet and not do it long-term without going to see a doctor about it.

A lot of people cycle between a LOT of different ADD/ADHD meds before finding the right one for them; me, I can't tolerate most of them (especially Focalin XR), and the SNRIs do seem to work better for me.

Now as to whether or not this is a good idea period? I'm not so sure. I'm no longer taking Strattera, and I've been getting much better results recently by eating a diet that's higher in protein, and taking a lot of B-vitamins. But it took a LOT of work to figure out what worked for me.

And that's another important part - being willing to do the work to try to figure out what works for you.

So please, feel free to elucidate. If you can put together a cogent argument as to why putting this up is irresponsible, I'll gladly delete the post.

Anonymous wrote on Tuesday, January 12, 2010:

I notice increased focus when on sudafed too. I wondered if anyone else did, and googled 'sudafed focus' and found your site. Thanks for posting about this.

Anonymous wrote on Saturday, January 16, 2010:

To the guy who says this is an irresponsible post:
In my opinion this is a great site. It represents one persons attempt at improving himself and trying to enlighten others along the way. If one is stupid enough to just aimlessly follow someone elses advice that is irresponsible but it is also, in my opinion, equally
as irresponsible to just swallow the garbage the doctors are feeding their patients, both literally and figuretively. It is hard to figure this stuff out on our own and we don't all need to make the same mistakes. If we share our experiences it might save others a lot of needless agony. Face it, we are all just guinea pigs for the drug companies anyway. It's a multi billion dollar machine and I really doubt they have our best interest in mind. So do your own research and take from it what you will but don't berate people who are sharing their experiences for the sake of others.
Ps I'm happy to hear that the Simon is no longer needing Strattera. I think it's always best to take care of our bodies and let our bodies, in turn, take care of us.

cjstl wrote on Tuesday, April 20, 2010:

Simon, this is amazing. I am a long-time sufferer of adult ADD. I have tried just about every drug on the market. I started in my teens with Ritalin and then Aderall. I couldn't handle either because of the wild mood swings and intense anxiety they caused. I moved on to Cylert (which didn't work at all) and Wellbutrin (which just kept me from caring about anything and caused me to start smoking when I quit taking it). Then I took a break for several years, during which I suffered from bouts of deep depression and wound up dropping out of college.

At some point in my early 20's, it became obvious to me that I would need some sort of chemical help if I ever wanted to make anything of my life, so I started taking Concerta. With its help, I was able to work full time and go back to school. But again, the anxiety was pretty rough and I had bouts of explosive anger, so at my wife's urging, I switched yet again to Ritalin LA. It wasn't much better, but I used it for a few more years until I was able to finish my degree.

I have been off of the drugs for a few years now. I like my personality so much better when I'm not taking a stimulant. And even more importantly, I don't have that fear that I might snap and beat one of my children to death in a fit of rage! But it is extremely difficult to be productive at work, and things like attending training classes or sitting through long meetings are virtually impossible. And I'm reluctant to start projects at home because I feel like I'll never finish. My mind is always racing, and it isn't easy to channel that into one of those “hyper-productive” periods!

I came across your blog because I have been taking Sudafed for the past several days to treat a head cold. It occurred to me that I have been much more alert and focused for the past few days, and I was wondering if it was due to the Sudafed. It was a very interesting read. My mom, who is a family practitioner, has been suggesting that I take Straterra for over a year now. I have been reluctant to do it because of my experiences with the stimulants, but if I could harness my true potential without the mood-altering effects of the other drugs, it might really be worth trying.

Anonymous wrote on Monday, April 26, 2010:

Simmon…you are the best for sharing this….thanks xoxo

Gooneybush Girl wrote on Monday, June 14, 2010:

Me too, BUT, when it wears off I feel angry (chemical let-down?) So, I take it on days that I really need to concentrate - and I warn the kids and my husband to avoid me in the late afternoon. So far, so good.

…and yes, it is getting worse as I get older.


Laura wrote on Monday, June 14, 2010:

Me too! BTW KJ, I noticed that if you use the extended version (12 hour formulas) you don't feel that effect as much, my 'wear-off' manifests itself a little bit differently, but I know what you mean.

Anonymous wrote on Saturday, October 30, 2010:

Interesting finding….I too inadvertently found similar results as the original author. I only took half a 12h dose and it was noticeable when it wore off in the afternoon. Using sudafed for congestion and zyrtec D ( anticholinergic 2nd generation and norepi) years apart. Of course I was also drinking coffee so I basically eliminated it from diet, not needing the focusing effect it provided. On Straterra…it is not a stimulant…which is great in so many ways especially for adults. Nobody needs their heart beating faster if the pro doesn't outweigh the con. One of my clients was placed on Straterra and his father was placed on it about a month later and articulated his mental capacity as being able to complete a thought, “ had a habit of pausing in mid sentence and almost losing his place” that ended after Straterra. Research is not out about what this med does on the growing brain or really the other classes either. Some of the stimulants have been around longer and research should be readily available in the years to come.~

Anonymous wrote on Thursday, November 4, 2010:

I noticed the very same effect. This is no accident. All the effective ADD medications involve stimulants (ie amphetiamines)of some kind or other.

Sudafed is pseudo ephederine, that, and “regular” ephederine, (also VERY effective for me) is derived from the same herb, Ephedera. Sudafed is also a prime source component for meth labs - hence it's tighter control in most states.

Cindy wrote on Sunday, December 26, 2010:

I have noticed the same thing. When I take antihistamines I get a LOT more work done. It seems my mind goes in a lot of different directions at the same time. I think much faster than I can “do”. It's frustrating to me. (I do have a really high IQ - 161 per Stanford-Binet.)

When I'm on an antihistamine, it's like I stop thinking in multiple tracks. It's just one train of thought - I can follow through, focusing on just one thing at a time. It's like I can catch up to my brain. My work can be staticized and I get twice as much work done, by statistic, when I'm taking antihistamine.

That said, I only take antihitamines when I really need it for my sinuses. (Although I'll admit, my sinuses are NEVER clear otherwise.) I worry about side effects - liver damage doesn't occur all at once. After a summer on a gallstone diet, I have a lot more respect for my liver. I also feel that we should be able to exist naturally with ourselves. We shouldn't need to drug ourselves to get along, day by day. There must be natural solutions to achieve the same effect. Not sure what they are - but logically, it seems there must be.

Anonymous wrote on Friday, January 7, 2011:

Amazingly I agree. I actually found your post because I'm changing to adderall, but I have to wait a few days for approval. And I also noticed that I think clearer on Sudafed. I've been contemplating buying a box because I'm off meds right now. I'm getting tightly coiled in nervous energy!

Anonymous wrote on Tuesday, March 22, 2011:

So dangerous that we get our info from the web. Interesting, but dangerous.

JTG wrote on Saturday, March 31, 2012:

By abnormal hearing loss do you mean that occasionally you go deaf in one ear? But only for a minute? THAT HAPPENS TO ME! I also have all the symptoms described in the article, and sudafed helps.

rido wrote on Friday, October 5, 2012:

I have seen a similar results during the times that I have cold or flu and i take antihistamine such as sudafed or similar contents to reduce the severity of the cold. I did not know why and i decided to research it today, this is the website i am stumbled upon.I am able to think clearly and make better speech. I can tell every person is looking directly at me because they are paying attention to every words i say. I do not know what is in the medicine that cause that but i feel that my sinus are clear temporarily, also i hate getting cold or flu and taking medicine. Need to dig little deeper and i will talk to my doctor about it.

Simon Cooke wrote on Saturday, October 6, 2012:

What I’ve found in the past is that taking N-Acetyl Cysteine works better for reducing fuzziness during a cold; sudafed works best for nasal/sinus congestion, and antihistamines such as Zyrtec work great for getting rid of the runny nose/kind of burning feeling. As ever, I’m not a doctor, so please get real medical advice first - this just works for me, it might not work for you.

LGC wrote on Tuesday, June 11, 2013:

i recently got laid off from work & can’t afford my Adderall. I started taking sudafed for a cold & noticed it helped too. I wouldn’t want to take it daily but my god it sure helps in a pinch!!

alex wrote on Wednesday, July 10, 2013:

Does anyone ever get grouchy or have their anxiety increase after taking Sudafed for a few days?

Bertha wrote on Thursday, September 5, 2013:

42 year old woman here. It’s interesting to read about how many people have discovered by accident while taking pseudoephedrine for a cold, that it helps with depression, anxiety, and focus. I find that I am less argumentative, more positive, and I don’t dwell on things. I laugh at people’s jokes and don’t take things as personal. It helps me get through my day in a way that seems more normal. When I don’t take it, I can get bogged down in limiting thoughts, negativity, and just lose myself in my head. It’s a struggle to talk myself out of all that constantly like a full time coach. With a sudafed, it’s like I’m a natural just flowing through my day with no need for vigilant mindfulness all the time. I will take a break from it every few days to practice mindfulness and stay in touch with my natural healing self, but in trying to hold down a career and dealing with people and activities, it is nice to have an over the counter vacation from the fog when I need it.

Cassondra wrote on Sunday, November 3, 2013:

Huh, when I was a kid I noticed that the Sudafed that made other kids hyper just put me to sleep. I have allergies so I was on a LOT of Sudafed growing up. Allergy shots resulted in less sinus issues, but I was diagnosed with ADD in college and wonder if I might ought to give Strattera or something a try.

Mike wrote on Tuesday, January 28, 2014:

Something told me to google pseudophedrine and add and I stumbled upon this site. I don’t remember being this focused and productive since I started treating a cold last week with alleve cold. I would rather do it naturally if anyone has any ideas. But in my mind our host has definitely hit a chord.

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