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Nasal Sprays for Cold Relief

Nasal sprays, also called nose sprays, are a commonly used to treat colds. Nasal congestion or blockage is one of the most common symptoms of colds and allergies. Nasal sprays can work quickly to ease congestion and remedy signs of a cold.

How Do Nasal Sprays Work?

Nasal sprays may help treat nasal allergy and cold symptoms. Sprays that are used to treat cold symptoms are available in two forms:

  • Decongestant nasal sprays. These nasal sprays are available over-the-counter and by prescription. They help to clear nasal passages by causing blood vessels in the lining of the nose to narrow, shrinking swollen tissue in the nose and sinuses. These nasal sprays should not be used for more than three days, depending on the medication, in order to prevent worsening of cold symptoms. When cold symptoms do worsen after using nasal sprays, it's called a "rebound effect."
  • Salt-water solutions. These saline nasal sprays are available over-the-counter to relieve mild congestion, loosen mucus, and prevent crusting. They contain no medication and can be used as frequently as needed without causing additional problems.

How Do You Use Nasal Sprays?

Here are some general steps to follow when you use a nasal spray:

  • Clear your nasal passageway by blowing your nose.
  • Take the cap off the bottle and follow directions for shaking or priming the bottle if necessary.
  • Before you spray the medication into your nose, block one nostril by pressing a finger against it lightly.
  • Put your thumb at the bottom of the pump bottle. The hole at the top of the bottle should be underneath your open nostril.
  • Squeeze the pump and breathe in gently. Then switch to the other nostril and repeat the process.
  • In order to keep the medication in your nose, don't blow your nose right away, and try not to sneeze.

Some sprays may have different instructions, so it's important that you follow the directions from your health care provider or from the drug label. Do not use a nasal spray more often or for longer than is recommended by your health care provider or the manufacturer.

Who Should Not Use Nasal Sprays?

Many over-the-counter cold medications, including nasal sprays, are not recommended for children. Read the labels carefully and talk to your health care provider before using any over-the-counter cold treatments for children.

Some people might want to avoid using some nasal sprays to remedy a cold. This includes people who have hypertension (high blood pressure) or other heart conditions, diabetes, thyroid problems, or urinary problems from benign prostatic hypertrophy, also known as an enlarged prostate. Decongestant products, including nasal sprays, can raise blood pressure and pulse rate. They can also cause nervousness, trouble sleeping or dizziness. In addition, some decongestants might interfere with other medications. Check with your health care provider before using these products. Saline solutions contain no medication and are safe for most adults.

Can Nasal Sprays Worsen Cold Symptoms?

A condition known as rhinitis medicamentosa is caused by overusing some types of nasal sprays. This overuse causes the medication to become less effective and nasal congestion symptoms to reappear. This is also known as the "rebound effect." Follow your health care provider's instructions carefully to help avoid this condition.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on June 11, 2012
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