Are Nasal Sprays Addictive? It’s Complicated

People have asked if OTC nasal sprays are addictive. Afrin and other oxymetazoline decongestants tell you to only use them for three days. After that, they can cause congestion to worsen or recur in a process called rebound congestion.

Afrin works by constricting blood vessels in the nose to reduce swelling. If a person overuses Afrin, the body gets used to the drug, and the tissue swells without it.

You can’t become addicted to it like a drug such as nicotine or cocaine. But you can become dependent on it. Dr. Maryann Amirshahi, an emergency medical doctor at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, explained, “People that use Afrin do not experience a ‘high’ from using it, but rather they become dependent on it to treat congestion.”

It is possible to break the pattern of using nose spray. And it’s essential to do so for your health. It’s not a pleasant experience, but you’ll be better off in the long run. “Expect to be miserable for a few days while the body recovers,” said Dr. Susan Besser, a primary care provider at Mercy Personal Physicians. “One can use a nasal steroid (such as Flonase) to help limit the symptoms while the body recovers. In severe cases, an oral steroid can be prescribed, which may help.”

Dr. Amirshahi said, “It is important to reiterate that Afrin should only be used for a few days. It is really intended to be used in the setting of a cold, which is temporary.”

Allergy nasal sprays are not habit-forming. Steroid sprays that reduce inflammation can be taken daily throughout allergy season to help you. That includes budesonide (Rhinocort), fluticasone (Flonase), triamcinolone (Nasacort) and mometasone (Nasonex). Antihistamine sprays, including Astepro, Astelin and Patanase, aren’t habit-forming either. Saline sprays are simply salt water to flush mucus, pollen, and other things from your nasal passages. They are not addictive in any way.

If a nasal spray tells you on the label not to use it for more than three days, pay attention to it and speak to your doctor about the risks. If you are still congested after that, you might want to switch to a saline spray or alternative treatment plan.

Overusing decongestant sprays can be dangerous as it can lead to chronic sinusitis. Moreover, you need higher and higher doses to achieve the same results for your congestion.

If you currently use decongestant sprays, talk to your doctor about the best way to stop without it being an unpleasant experience.

Banner image: Diana Polekhina

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