Nasal congestion is very common and is experienced by many people. Nasal congestion is caused by dilatation of nasal blood vessels mostly blood vessels of venous system. The engorged or dilated blood vessels block the breathing passage. The uneasy feeling because of inability to breath through nose leads to regular daily use of nasal decongestant. The pharmaceutical medication decongestant narrows the blood vessels and one can breath normal through nose. Using over-the-counter nasal decongestant sprays are thought to be the easiest way to tackle this problem. But it may not always be true. Many people using nasal sprays to obtain relief from nasal congestion may feel the need to use it over and over again.

Addiction to Nasal Spray

You may wonder if you are getting addicted to your nasal spray. The dependence on nasal drops or spray to decongest or shrink blood vessels in nasal passage in reality is not an addiction. The periodic breathing difficulties are caused by rebound effect or rebound congestion of the nasal passage. The rebound congestion or enlargement of blood vessels within nasal passage is observed after few hours when the effect of decongestant drops or sprays diminishes. Just as decongestant nasal sprays are useful to relieve nasal congestion, they may also cause further congestion with repeated and prolonged use.

Nasal Sprays - What You Need To Know?

There is a wide variety of nasal sprays used for nasal congestion or nose block. Some of these include saline solutions, steroid sprays, anti-allergic sprays and decongestant sprays. Some of these are prescription medicine, while most are available as over-the-counter (OTC) sprays.

OTC nasal decongestant sprays are popularly used to treat nasal obstruction, stuffy or congested nose, respiratory infections, sinusitis and allergies or hay fever causing blocked nose. The congestion of nose mainly results from irritation and inflammation causing the inner nasal lining to swell.

The nasal decongestant sprays or topical decongestants are locally acting medications in a liquid form that are sprayed into the nose. Most of the decongestant sprays contain a substance that is responsible for causing constriction of the blood vessels. This helps to reduce blood flow to the area as well as reduce the inflammation and swelling.

This gives immediate relief by clearing the nasal passages. The nasal congestion is reduced and the passage feels dry and free of nose block. These sprays are generally used for 3 to 5 days depending on the condition. However, when the decongestant sprays are used for more than the specified period, it can lead to a rebound effect causing more congestion.

What is Rebound Congestion (Rhinitis Medicamentosa)?

Rhinitis Medicamentosa (RM) is a condition that occurs when nasal decongestant sprays are used for a longer period than prescribed. The sprays work by reducing inflammation and blocking, which causes dryness of the nasal mucosa and provides relief.

The mucosa that gets dried by the nasal spray during the regular course of use becomes tolerant with repeated use for longer period. In response to the vasoconstriction, the blood vessels of nose work harder to maintain nutrition of the nasal lining. This leads to engorgement of the blood vessels, which results in further congestion and nasal blocking.

Repeated use of decongestant nasal sprays can cause more swelling of the nasal passages, making it essential to use the spray more often. As the spray is thought to be a cure, the use continues and the problem persists. It may create a situation, when a person may not be able to function without keeping the nasal spray handy for use.

This may be thought as getting used to or addicted to nasal sprays, but in fact, it is the rebound effect or the rebound nasal congestion, which causes excessive congestion and leads to further overuse of sprays. This can become a vicious circle involving nasal congestion, use of decongestant nasal spray and further congestion and dryness.

Treatment For Nasal Spray Addiction or Rebound Congestion?

Nasal spray addiction or rebound congestion can be resolved by stopping the nasal decongestant spray at once i.e. cold turkey approach of stopping use of nasal spray or nasal decongestants. Nasal flushing with saline solution or saline drops may be given to soothe the trouble and reduce congestion. Steroid sprays may be advised to reduce the severity of the symptoms. Any permanent damages caused to the nasal mucosa may have to be treated appropriately.

Recovery Period of Nasal Spray Addiction or Rebound Congestion:

With a cold turkey approach of stopping the use of nasal spray or nasal decongestant, it may take anywhere between 3-5 days before you become comfortable staying off of nasal sprays. In some cases recovery period may extend to more than one week.

How To Use Nasal Sprays Safely?

The common underlying conditions that can cause nasal congestion include sinusitis, deviated nasal septum, rhinitis, allergies, etc. It is advisable to consult a medical expert for relevant treatment options and follow the treatment as advised.

While decongestant nasal sprays are very effective in relieving nasal congestion, the most important factor is that they should not be used for a longer period. The active ingredient in the nasal decongestant sprays may vary from brand to brand. However each product has specific instructions about the usage and it is essential to use the sprays in the prescribed form and for the specified period only. Beyond the given period, if there is no relief, it is advisable to seek medical opinion.

The other alternatives of nasal sprays may not cause rebound phenomenon as that caused by decongestant nasal sprays. Saline nasal sprays can help to keep the nasal passage clear and help to soothe the area. Steroid sprays or anti-inflammatory sprays may be given to prevent flare-ups of allergic response during particular seasons. Steam inhalation may also be helpful.

The exact cause of nasal congestion should be detected and the best alternatives of nasal sprays must be discussed with your physician. Other oral medications to relieve nasal congestion should also be taken as advised.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:


Last Modified On: March 12, 2015

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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