Ear & Sinus Problems : How Do Nasal Sprays Work?
Is Your Nasal Spray Addictive?
Not all nose sprays are alike, and overusing certain kinds can have an adverse effect.
By Vanessa Caceres
Medically Reviewed by Farrokh Sohrabi, MD
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Got congestion? Before taking another squirt of nose spray, there are some important things you should know.
Some nose sprays are part of a drug class called vasoconstrictors, which constrict the blood vessels that cause congestion, says Jacqueline Eghrari-Sabet, MD, founder and medical director of Family Allergy & Asthma Care in Gaithersburg, Maryland. And the effect is immediate: Goodbye, congestion! But if you use the sprays for more than a couple of days, your nose becomes accustomed to that constriction and you then have what’s called a rebound effect, meaning your nose continues to need a squirt of the spray to relieve your congestion.
It's pretty easy to get hooked, which is why the package insert in vasoconstrictor nose sprays, also called decongestants, states not to use them for more than three days, says Dr. Eghrari-Sabet.
Know Your Options
Other types of nasal sprays are available to ease congestion, and not all of them have the same rebound effect, says Leonard Bielory, MD, an allergy and immunology specialist in Springfield, New Jersey.
Allergy specialists often prescribe an intranasal steroid for allergies and congestion that can also decrease swelling in the nose, says Eghrari-Sabet.
RELATED: When to Call Your Doctor About Congestion
There are also weaker sprays that help clean the nasal passages, says Dr. Bielory, including saline-based sprays or special formulations that help you cut down on your use of intranasal steroids. Other anti-inflammatory sprays that do not contain steroids aim to stop allergy symptoms before they start, and saline rinses that help soothe and clean out the nasal passages can also help, says Eghrari-Sabet.
How to Properly Use Nasal Sprays
Many people who see their doctors for chronic congestion have already tried over-the-counter nasal sprays on their own, Bielory says, but it's important not to wait too long to schedule a doctor’s visit. If symptoms last for more than a couple of days, it's time to make an appointment. If your doctor suggests the regular use of a nasal spray for congestion, make sure you’re using it correctly.
In general, first you'll clean your nasal passages with a weaker spray, such as saline or a similar formulation, and then use a stronger formulation like an intranasal steroid.
To properly administer the spray, start by looking down at your toes. Aim the spray into one of your nostrils, but point it toward your ear, suggests Eghrari-Sabet. Cover the other nostril as you spray so the liquid doesn't stream out through that other side. To position the nozzle accurately, you may find it helpful to use your left hand to spray into the right nostril, and vice versa, she adds.
If your congestion comes from allergies, expect to use your nasal spray daily, either year-round or just before allergy season starts. For example, if patients are allergic to grass, Eghrari-Sabet has them start a spray right before allergy season, continue throughout, and then stop when the season stops.
Finally, work with your doctor to figure out what's triggering your congestion. That way, you can pinpoint exactly when you need a nasal spray, and the best type of spray for you.
Video: how to use a steroid nasal spray
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