Can you overuse your nasal spray?

Don't overuse your nasal spray. It can lead to dependency.
Don't overuse your nasal spray. It can lead to dependency.

Here's the scenario: A few seasons ago you suffered from congestion. You've been well for a long time, but can't seem to get rid of that stuffy nose.

Some nights you wake up in a panic as you try to find your bottle of nasal spray on your bedside table – and you don't understand why you still need it.

Could it be that you've developed an addiction, and is it serious?

A dependence on nasal spray is pretty real. Why else would there be a warning on the label that you shouldn’t use it for more than three to five days?

It’s an official condition

Nasal spray dependence is such a well-known problem that there's even a name for the term: rhinitis medicamentosa. This describes the adverse nasal congestion that develops after using nasal decongestants longer than the recommended period of time.

How does a nasal spray work?

Not all nasal sprays are the same. There are several nasal sprays available on the market that contain steroids, saline or antihistamine.

Some nasal sprays contain a drug group called vasoconstrictors, which include norepinephrine and pseudoephedrine. These ones get rid of a stuffy nose by shrinking the congested blood vessels in the area, thereby opening up your nasal passages.

Other nasal sprays may contain anti-inflammatory steroids to reduce swelling and mucus in the nose.

Steroid nasal sprays usually do not offer immediate relief and can take a couple of days to be fully effective.

The blood vessels only respond to the chemicals in nasal sprays for a few days. After that, the nasal spray no longer has any effect.

Call your doctor when:

  • You only suffer from nasal congestion with no other symptoms.
  • You get withdrawal symptoms such as headaches when you don’t use your nasal decongestant.
  • You need to use more decongestant to get relief.

How to break the dependence

  • Switch to a saline spray or use something like Vicks Vaporub or natural herbal remedies.
  • Go completely "cold turkey".
  • Discuss the matter with your doctor.
  • Try oral antihistamines to clear up nasal congestion.

Image credit: iStock 

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