What you need to know about using a nasal spray


Nasal sprays are used to deliver medicine to the nasal passages. They are most often used to treat allergies or cold symptoms such as itching, sneezing, or a stuffy nose. However, some nasal sprays deliver drugs that work on other parts of the body. The lining of the nose is rich in blood vessels, which means that it can easily suck medications into the bloodstream.

Nasal sprays are available by prescription and over-the-counter, depending on the drug. Most work by injecting a fine mist of medicine into the nostrils with a hand pump or squeeze bottle.

Ellen Lindner / Get Medication Information

Types of nasal sprays

There is a wide range of over-the-counter and prescription nasal sprays on the market. Some treat nasal congestion and allergies, while others administer systemic medications and vaccines to treat or prevent illness.

The first step to using a nasal spray correctly is making sure you are using it for the right reasons.

Over-the-counter nasal sprays for colds and allergies

  • Afrin (oxymetazolone): acts as a decongestant, relieving nasal congestion in people with colds and sinus problems.
  • Nasalcrom (cromolyn): Helps relieve and prevent allergic rhinitis symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, or itching.
  • Neo-Synephrine (Phenylephrine): Acts as a decongestant, relieving nasal congestion in people with colds and sinus problems.
  • Flonase (fluticasone propionate) – Treats symptoms of sneezing and hay fever.
  • Nazacort (triamcinolone): treats itching and runny nose.
  • Rinocort (budesonide): a steroid that prevents inflammation, treats runny nose and itchy nose.

Prescription nasal sprays for allergies

  • Astelin NS / Astepro (azelastine) – A nonsteroidal antihistamine that reduces nasal allergy symptoms such as runny nose, hay fever , or other allergies (available over the counter in the US in early 2022 for adults and children 6 years of age) onwards). ..
  • Nazarel (flunisolide): Helps shrink nasal polyps and relieve allergy symptoms such as runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, and itchy nose.
  • Nasonex (mometasone): used to prevent and treat nasal congestion and other allergy symptoms.
  • QNASL (beclomethasone): used to treat allergy symptoms such as sneezing.
  • Zetonna / Omnaris (ciclesonide): used to treat itching, runny nose, and sneezing.
  • Xhance (fluticasone): May be prescribed to treat nasal polyps and allergy symptoms.
  • Dimista (fluticasone / azelastine combination): treats allergy symptoms such as runny nose and itchy nose.
  • Patanasse (olopatadine): used to treat allergy symptoms, such as itchy nose and eyes.

Other nasal sprays

  • Fortical (calcitonin) – Used to treat osteoporosis, controls the amount of calcium in the body, and helps maintain proper bone density.
  • Imitrex (sumatriptan): Helps relieve migraine attacks that begin with or without aura.
  • Nicotine Nasal Sprays – A smoking cessation device used to stop smoking.

FluMist is an intranasal flu vaccine. It must be done by a healthcare professional.

Basics of using a nasal spray

Many medications come in the form of nasal sprays, and directions for use vary. If you do not understand the directions for a particular product you are using, ask your pharmacist to explain the directions.

Before the beginning:

  • Make sure you can breathe through each nostril . If your nostril is blocked, the medicine will not go far enough into your nasal passage to be effective.
  • Please note that some nasal sprays must be applied every day before use. To do this, release it several times in the air until a fine mist appears. Make sure to keep it out of the eyes and away from other people.
  • Store the nasal spray as directed and keep the bottle out of direct sunlight. Do not share your nasal spray with other people and, most importantly, keep it out of the reach of children.

When you're ready to use the spray, be sure to gently inhale the scent of your favorite food or flower. Do not inhale the spray, or the medicine may pass through your nasal passage and go directly into your throat.

Step by step instruction

To properly use the nasal spray from a pump bottle:

  1. Blow your nose gently to clear mucus from the nasal passages.
  2. Wash your hands with soap and water.
  3. Gently shake the nasal spray bottle and remove the cap. Prime the dispenser if necessary before use.
  4. Tilt your head slightly forward and close one nostril by gently pressing your finger against the edge of your nose.
  5. Insert the tip of the nasal spray into the other nostril. Point the tip back and away from your nose. Make sure to point the spray directly back and not towards the tip of the nose.
  6. Squeeze the nasal spray bottle as you slowly inhale through your nose.
  7. Remove the tip of the nasal spray from your nostril and breathe out through your mouth.
  8. Repeat this process for the other nostril (if recommended). Be sure to follow the directions and use only the recommended amount of medicine.
  9. Wipe the tip of the nasal spray with a tissue or alcohol swab and replace the cap.
  10. Try not to sneeze or blow your nose immediately after using the nasal spray.

If you use the nasal spray correctly, the medicine should not drip from the nose or down the back of the throat.

Some nasal sprays leave a bad taste in your mouth. The water or juice should help remove the aftertaste.

Never use a nasal spray after the expiration date printed on the bottle. Liquid medications can easily become contaminated with dirt or bacteria.

Side effects

Nasal sprays can cause side effects. Some of the most common are:

  • Combustion
  • Bleeding
  • Fire
  • Increased runny nose
  • Dry nose
  • Sneezing
  • Nervousness
  • Nausea
  • Headache

If any of the side effects persist or are severe, tell your doctor. Also contact your doctor if you experience any of the following more serious side effects:

  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Shaking
  • Vision changes
  • Soft spot
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat

Bouncing off the cluster

Narrowing of the blood vessels is a narrowing of the blood vessels in the nose, which helps reduce nasal congestion and fluid production. This is what makes vasoconstrictor nasal sprays like afrin and neosynephrine helpful.

However, with regular use of these sprays, you will need to increase the dose over time to relieve congestion. Overuse of these sprays reduces their effectiveness and can actually make nasal congestion worse, known as rhinitis or nasal congestion medication .

As a general rule of thumb, never use a decongestant nasal spray for more than three days. Overuse can lead to addiction and require you to use a dispensing device called rinostat to gradually wean you off the medication.

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