Nasal sprays: Uses and effects

Learn about the different kinds of nasal sprays and how they work

Nasal sprays are generally used to temporarily relieve congestion, a common symptom of a head cold, allergies or a sinus infection. These sprays work in several ways, most commonly by reducing swelling in nasal passages, constricting blood vessels in the lining of nasal passages and removing irritants like pollen or dust.

Kinds of nasal sprays

There are a few different kinds of nasal sprays out there, the most common being antihistamines, topical decongestants and saline sprays.


These sprays work by limiting the effects of histamine, the chemical in the body that causes congestion by creates inflammation of our nasal passages. When histamines are producing less of an effect, we experience a decongestant effect.

There are only two antihistamine nasal sprays available in the United States and they are both require a prescription for purchase. They areazelastinhydrochloride, known as Astelin, and olopatadine hydrochloride, known as Patanase.

Topical decongestants

These sprays are available over the counter in the United states under names like Afrin and VicsSinex. They most commonly contain chemicals like oxymetazoline hydrochloride and phenylephrine hydrochloride, which constrict blood vessels in nasal passages, thus opening up the airway.

Using these sprays for long periods of time can cause damage to nasal passage lining, and can even result in increased inflammation sometimes. This increased congestions is known as rebound effect, and can occur if these sprays are used longer than advised.

Saline sprays

These are used to moisten nasal passage membranes, loosen mucus and to flush out irritants such as pollen, dust or pollution. They can also have mild decongestant properties.

How to use nasal sprays

It is important to always read the directions on the package and follow any advice provided by your doctor. Below are general guidelines for using nasal spray medications.

1. Before you use a nasal spray, first clear your nasal passages by gently blowing your nose.

2. Remove the protective cap from the spray pump and follow any directions for shaking or priming the bottle.

3. Use a finger to close one nostril. Keep your head upright, place the spray tip into the other nostril, and spray the medication into the open nostril as you breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose.

4. After spraying, take a few quick breaths in through your nose to be sure the medication has gotten all the way in.

5. Repeat for the other nostril.  If done correctly, little or none of the medication should drip from your nose or down the back of your throat.

Make sure you don't blow your nose or sneeze directly after administering the medication.
Take special care not to get any of the spray in your eyes, and be sure to clean the spray tip with hot water or wipe with a clean tissue after each use.
Potential side effects

As with all medicines, makes sure to consult your pharmacist or read warnings on the package for information about side effects and potential drug interactions. Some common side effects include:

  • Nasal burning, stinging or dryness
  • Dripping nose
  • Sneezing

If side effects last longer than a few minutes after administering the medication, or if they get worse, get in contact with your doctor or pharmacist.

Be especially sure to contact a physician if you experience any of the following potentially dangerous effects:
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Vertigo
  • Nausea
  • Intense headaches
  • Unexplained mood changes
  • Insomnia
  • Shaking
  • Night sweats
  • Unexplained fatigue

Do not take MAO inhibitors at the same time as decongestant nasal sprays. You should also avoid taking MAO inhibitors for two weeks before and after nasal spray treatment.

  • Tags: cold common cold relief nasal infection nasal sprays
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Categories: Cold

Michelle Spatz, Amanda Maynes

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