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Published on November 24, 2020

What You Should Know About Nasal Sprays

More than 50 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies each year, leaving people looking for relief from common symptoms like congestion, post-nasal drip and inflammation.

Alexis Sweeney, MD, a family medicine physician at Abington - Jefferson Health, shares how nasal sprays may be able to help alleviate these symptoms and what you should know when choosing and using a one.

Not all Nasal Sprays are Alike

In general, there are three different types of nasal sprays: steroid, saline and decongestants.

Nasal steroids reduce inflammation and swelling. “They can take longer to work, but they’re good for treating long-term allergies, sinus infections and post-nasal drip,” advises Dr. Sweeney.

Nasal saline is a wash that can help with clearing a buildup of mucus by coating your nasal passages with a physical lubricant. It can be used as a traditional nasal spray or in a device called a neti pot, which is used to pour saline through your nasal passages to clear them out.

Decongestant nasal sprays work fast by constricting the vessels in the nose. They can help with decongestion during severe colds, but they’re not recommended for long-term use because of the risk of rebound congestion, increased heart rate and high blood pressure.

Using Nasal Sprays can Cause Some Adverse Side Effects

The side effects vary depending on which type of nasal spray you choose.

“If you use a decongestant nasal spray for more than three days, it can cause a rebound reaction,” warns Dr. Sweeney. By using the nasal spray for too long, your nasal passages can develop a dependency on it, which causes worsened congestion. If you believe that you’ve become addicted to your nasal spray, talk to your doctor about how you can wean yourself off of it.

When using nasal steroids, it’s possible to experience nose bleeds, burning sensations and increased sensitivity because of the thinning of the mucus membranes.

Nasal saline is unpleasant if it’s swallowed, but can also cause some pain if being used in a neti pot incorrectly.

If you’re experiencing adverse reactions to nasal sprays, there are some other ways to find relief from allergies and congestion. You can take oral medications or steroids prescribed by your doctor if you’re having bad cold or sinus symptoms. There are also over-the-counter oral medications that can help with congestion.

Nasal Sprays are Over-the-Counter Medications

This means that it’s up to you to decide whether to use them. When choosing one, you should take your symptoms into consideration. If you need immediate relief, a decongestant nasal spray would be most helpful, but if your symptoms last for a whole season you may want to consider a nasal steroid instead.

Dr. Sweeney says, “If you have underlying medical conditions or are unfamiliar with nasal sprays, you should check with your doctor before using them.” Even if you’re healthy, it’s important to use nasal sprays responsibly.

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