Nasal Sprays for Cold Relief

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on September 11, 2023
2 min read

When you're all stuffed up from a cold, you can get fast relief from a nasal spray. But take a minute to learn the different types and how to use them. It can make the difference between success and failure in clearing up that blockage. Your nose will thank you.

There are three kinds to choose from:

Decongestants. You can buy these over the counter or with a prescription from your doctor. They get rid of your stuffiness by narrowing blood vessels in the lining of your nose, which shrinks swollen tissues.

Don't use them for more than 3 days, or your cold symptoms could get worse. Doctors call this the "rebound effect."

Salt-water solutions. They're also called "saline" nasal sprays, and you can buy them without a prescription. They loosen up your mucus and keep it from getting crusty. Since they don't contain any medications, feel free to use them as often as you like.

Steroid nasal sprays. You can get these over the counter or with a prescription. They're approved to relieve allergy symptoms, but they're sometimes used to help clear a stuffed-up nose that comes from a sinus infection.

The first thing you need to do is to blow your nose to clear up the passageways as much as you can. Then take the cap off the bottle and follow the directions for shaking or "priming" the pump, if necessary.

Now take these steps:

  • 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 side and repeat the process.

When you're done, don't blow your nose right away and try not to sneeze. That will keep the medication in your nose.

Some sprays may have different instructions on the label, so use those or follow your doctor's directions.

Don't use it for longer than recommended by your doctor or the maker of the nasal spray.

A lot of over-the-counter decongestants, including these sprays, aren't recommended for children. Read the labels carefully and talk to your pediatrician.

You might want to avoid some nasal sprays if you have high blood pressure, a heart condition, diabetes, thyroid problems, or urinary problems from an enlarged prostate.

Decongestant products, including nasal sprays, can raise blood pressure and pulse rate. They can also cause you to feel nervous or dizzy, or make it hard for you to get to sleep.

Some decongestants may interfere with other medications you take. Check with your doctor before you use them.

Steroid nasal sprays can cause nosebleeds and, although rarely, a change in your sense of smell.