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Can You Be Addicted to Nasal Spray?

Medically Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on August 21, 2020

Most nasal sprays are decongestants that can help with a clogged nose. They work by making the blood vessels and tissues in your sinuses smaller, since allergies and colds can make your sinuses swell.

If you use a nasal spray for more than a few days, you might notice that you need more and more of the medicine to ease your congestion.

Does that mean you’re addicted to nasal spray?

The Rebound Effect

An over-the-counter (OTC) nasal spray won’t cause cravings that are common with addiction. But if you use one for more than 3 days in a row, you might get something called a rebound effect.

Your nose might not react to the medicine the same way it did when you first started to take it, and you might have to use more to ease your congestion. If you stop using the nasal spray, your congestion could get worse. That’s why some people think you can become addicted to nasal sprays.

The main symptom of the rebound effect is that you begin to have a tolerance to nasal spray. You might have a rebound effect if you’ve used it for more than 3 days, and you seem to be even more congested than you were when you started using it.

If you use nasal spray too often, it can also cause chronic sinus infections.

The Difference Between the Rebound Effect and Addiction

Having a rebound effect and being addicted aren’t the same thing.

A drug addiction changes your brain and the way you act. If you're addicted to a drug, you might keep using it, even though you know it hurts you.

A rebound effect happens when your nose gets used to the medicine in the nasal spray, so much so that the spray doesn’t work to clear your congestion anymore.

You’re probably not addicted to nasal spray unless you:

  • Have cravings
  • Keep using it even though you know it’s harming you
  • Can't live a healthy life because the nasal spray gets in the way

How to Avoid the Rebound Effect

Using your nasal spray correctly can keep you from having the rebound effect.

Gently blow your nose before you use nasal spray. This will clear your passages as much as possible and give the medicine room to work.

Also make sure to read the directions and shake the bottle before you spray.

When you put the tip of the nasal spray canister in your nose, aim it toward the back of your head.

Try not to blow your nose or sneeze right after you use it. You might lose some of the medicine before it has a chance to work.

If You Have the Rebound Effect

If you think you’re congested because of the rebound effect, stop using your nasal spray a little at a time. For example, you could stop using it in one nostril and eventually taper off the other nostril, too.

If it’s hard to breathe because you’re so congested, see your doctor. They might prescribe a nasal steroid spray that can help.

If you have any questions about your nasal spray or how to use it properly, ask your doctor.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “Nasal spray addiction: Is it real?” “Drug addiction (substance use disorder).”

Cleveland Clinic: “Nasal Sprays Work Best When You Use Them Correctly — Here’s How.”

Family Doctor, from the American Academy of Family Physicians: “Nasal Sprays: How to Use Them Correctly.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “By the way, doctor: How can I break my nasal spray addiction?”

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