With a few more weeks of winter left, millions of Americans are in search of a quick fix for their runny noses and sinus congestion, but experts want to remind everyone to use over-the-counter nasal sprays safely because overuse might do more harm than good.
“A lot of times people use a nasal spray because it’s a very quick fix. It starts working much faster than tablet medicines do,” said Douglas Nelson, an allergist with Mayo Clinic Health System.
“There are a lot of people for whom pills that we would take for decongestion would not be safe,” said Rachel Arfstrom, a pharmacist at Cass Street Pharmacy.
Arfstrom said nasal sprays seem to be an easy and safe solution.
“Without having to put a chemical that goes everywhere in your body, you can just relieve the symptoms in your nose,” said Arfstrom.
But just how safe are nasal sprays? Arfstrom said many over-the-counter nasal sprays are safe to use up to three days.
“Your body really rapidly adapts to the presence of the nasal spray, so that when you stop taking it, you get this congestion that’s worse than what you started with,” said Arfstrom.
“If you keep using them for too long your nose can sometimes get over congested or sort of hooked on that decongestant effect and you get rebound stuffiness as they wear off,” said Nelson.
If you find yourself using them for longer periods of time, you may be showing signs of addiction.
“It’s not so much that it’s an addiction in the way that we think of addiction with other medicines where you crave it and you need that drug. It’s that the medicine works so well,” said Arfstrom.
However, overuse can cause problems.
“You can have side effects like your nose becoming too dry, your nose becoming very irritated and you can have more nose bleeds,” said Arfstrom.
“People can actually get a hole that develops between the two sides of the nose like a perforation of the septum. Those aren’t common conditions but it can happen,” said Nelson.
Nasal sprays can be extremely effective short-term, but if it doesn’t help after about three days it’s time to look for a better alternative.
“If people are using medicines and find they have to keep using it on a chronic basis, whatever the cause that started it, it’s good to seek out and touch bases with your doctor to make sure there aren’t other ways it can be treated,” said Nelson.
Experts say the biggest battle is trying to get away from steady use. If you have any questions or concerns, contact your health care provider or pharmacist. They can help you find a way to reduce the use of nasal sprays.