When you have a stuffy nose, a squirt or two of the right nasal spray can help you feel better. But even though many of these medicines are sold over-the-counter, you still need to know how to use them in order to avoid problems – and even damage to the inside of your nose.
There are several types of nasal spray. Some are safe to use every day for several months. Others can cause what is known as “nasal spray addiction” if used for more than just a few days. This is not a true addiction, but can cause swelling and long-term stuffiness that may lead to further misuse of the spray. It could become a serious problem. Sometimes a person may need additional treatment – even surgery – to correct damage. It’s important to know the different types of nasal sprays and how to use them safely.
Saline Nasal Sprays
Saline sprays can help loosen and thin mucus in the nose. They do not contain medications, and have no side effects. They are generally considered safe for all ages. They contain sterilized water and a small amount of salt (sodium chloride). Some also contain preservatives that prevent the growth of mold or bacteria. Saline sprays are not addictive.
Steroid Nasal Sprays
Steroid nasal sprays don’t contain steroids like those sometimes used for body building (anabolic). They instead have corticosteroids, which calm inflammation caused by an overactive immune system response. This drug is used to treat nasal allergy symptoms like sneezing and runny nose. It can provide relief from hay fever or nasal allergies. It takes several days to work, and must be used every day during the allergy season to be effective. Some corticosteroids may slow growth in children, especially if used for a long time. Children should only use steroid nasal sprays under the guidance of a doctor.
Steroid nasal sprays are commonly available in stores, although some may require a prescription. The active ingredients may be listed as fluticasone propionate or triamcinolone acetonide. Steroid nasal sprays are not addictive, and are safe to use daily for most people up to six months, although they can have some side effects.
Antihistamine Nasal Sprays
Antihistamines have been used for years to treat seasonal allergies by blocking a chemical responsible for allergy symptoms. Cromolyn sodium is an antihistamine spray available over the counter and can be used in ages 2 and up as directed. It may take a week or more of daily use before a person feels complete relief. Antihistamine nasal sprays are not addictive, and can be used up to 12 weeks. Those who need to use them for longer should ask their doctor.
Decongestant Nasal Sprays
Decongestant sprays are available over the counter and are designed to temporarily shrink the blood vessels in the nose. The active ingredient is oxymetazoline, although they are sold under several brand names. Decongestant nasal sprays ARE addictive. If a decongestant nasal spray is used too frequently or for too long, you can develop “rebound congestion.” You may find that you want to use the spray more frequently than recommended. Each time the spray is used, the blood vessels in the nose narrow, causing the tissue inside the nose to shrink. After the medicine wears off, it swells again, sometimes even more than before. This swelling can become more severe and may even lead to permanent swelling of the tissue. Long-term use of these sprays can also damage tissue, causing infection and pain.
The American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology recommends using decongestant nasal sprays for no more than twice a day for only 3 days. If you use the spray more frequently, you should see a doctor. The nasal tissue will be checked for damage or excess swelling. Typically, a person will need to stop using the spray and may need a different medication to relieve the swelling, such as a steroid nasal spray.
If you have questions about how to use nasal sprays, or which one is best for you, call South Valley Ear, Nose & Throat to make an appointment with our knowledgeable physicians.