Can You Overdo It On Nasal Spray?

The question: Is it OK to use nose spray on a regular basis, several times a week for years, for congestion relief? Is any harm being caused by this usage?

The answer: Over-the-counter decongestant nasal sprays may provide some temporary relief from congestion, but the problem is that their effects wear off quite quickly -- after just 30 minutes or less, says Ronald H. Saff, M.D., a fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

In fact, you end up getting "a rebound where the nasal congestion is actually worse than before you administered the spray," Saff, of the Allergy & Asthma Diagnostic Treatment Center in Tallahassee, Florida, tells HuffPost. And then, in order "to get the same amount of decongestion, you need to use more and more and more of it."

Over-the-counter decongestant nasal sprays are only meant to be used for three to four days, in order to provide temporary relief as you're going through a cold or some other such illness. But when you use them for a week or longer, that's when you increase the risk of becoming addicted to the medication.

That's a problem, considering there are risks to overusing these sprays. In addition to worsening congestion, you can get headaches and increased blood pressure (since the spray is absorbed from the nasal passages right into the bloodstream). There are even rare instances of perforated septum (the septum is the part of the nose that separates the right side from the left side), Saff says.

There's even a medical term for overusing these kinds of nasal sprays -- rhinitis medicamentosa.

If you're finding that you need to continuously use these kinds of nasal sprays on a regular basis, Saff says it's important to talk with your doctor about getting to the true root of the problem. Some people use these medications "because they're blocked up due to allergies, so allergy testing can reveal what they're allergic to and then the patients can minimize their exposure to what they're allergic to," he says.

In still other cases, a condition called turbinate hypertrophy, which is when people have enlarged bones in their noses, can cause nasal congestion; surgical removal of this turbinate bone could better reduce nasal congestion, versus continued use of a nasal spray.

There are also other options besides over-the-counter decongestant nasal sprays that a doctor could prescribe, such as nasal steroids or oral decongestants, Saff says.

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