Nasal sprays are a common solution for those looking to manage allergies, sinusitis, and other nasal issues. But what are they and how do they work? In this article, we discuss the various types of nasal sprays, how they provide relief, and how they should be used.
How Do Nasal Sprays Work?
While there are many types of nasal sprays on the market today, all serve the same functional purpose: delivering targeted medicinal relief to the inner tissues of the nose. They consist of a bottle and usually some sort of nozzle that fits directly inside the nostril.
Depending on the issue it's intended to treat, a nasal spray may contain a host of different ingredients. Products for allergy symptoms, such as antihistamine spray, contain topical antihistamines that limit the overproduction of inflammation-causing chemicals in the body during a reaction. Combined with water and other lubricating ingredients, it provides short-term relief from sinus irritation and can be used regularly.
Other types of nasal sprays like decongestants and saline solutions work similarly. Rather than specifically targeting the chemicals involved in allergic reactions, they more broadly treat blood vessel inflammation. All three can be used to manage the symptoms and discomforts associated with allergies.
Types of Nasal Sprays for Allergies
People with allergies have no shortage of options to choose from when it comes to nasal spray. The market is flooded with products of all kinds, all of which are used to provide short-term relief from hay fever symptoms. Read below for a review of the three most popular and what they each bring to the table.
Azelastine (Astelin, Astepro)
Often sold under the brand names Astelin and Astepro, Azelastine is an over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medication used to treat allergic rhinitis. It contains antihistamines that block the body's H1 receptors and suppress the production of histamine. The spray is capable of providing up to 12 hours of relief against common allergy symptoms such as sneezing, itching, runny nose, and post-nasal drip.
Oxymetazoline Hydrochloride (Afrin, Dristan, Sinex)
This OTC product is a vasoconstrictor, meaning it narrows blood vessels when sprayed on nasal tissue. This reduces inflammation levels and allows the passages to decongest despite an allergic reaction. oxymetazoline nasal spray is mainly recommended for adults and should not be used to treat children younger than six years of age unless otherwise directed by a doctor.
Phenylephrine Hydrochloride (Neo-Synephrine)
Also classified as a decongestant, phenylephrine hydrochloride reduces blood flow inside the nose to slow inflammation and related allergy symptoms. The only main difference between this product and oxymetazoline hydrochloride is the first half of the active ingredient, which is phenylephrine rather than oxymetazoline. It's also capable of providing short-term relief from sinus pressure and congestion.
How to Use Nasal Spray
A nasal spray is often recommended as the first line of defense for individuals who experience sinus-affecting allergy symptoms. While the results are temporary, these products are a fast and effective way of achieving short-term relief.
All nasal sprays go into the nose through the nostril. They are sprayed upwards and toward the back of the nose for maximum effectiveness. Dosage and time-to-effectiveness vary depending on the product type (steroid, decongestant, or antihistamine) and individual; it usually takes 20-30 minutes to begin feeling results, but experts note that some products may require multiple days of use before delivering full benefit.
Before going any further, it's incredibly important to recognize that no two nasal sprays are the same. They all have their own directions and best practices to take into account, so you should always read the full product label for specific instructions.
That being said, we've outlined a generic guide to using nasal sprays for allergies below:
- Blow Your Nose: Start by blowing your nose to remove all mucus and debris lurking in the nasal passages. This will clear the spray's target surface and make it easier for the active ingredients to take effect.
- Shake the Bottle: Shake the nasal spray bottle before each use. Doing so ensures that the formula is evenly distributed and helps maximize the effectiveness of each spray.
- Insert Into Nostril: Tilt your head slightly backward, insert the nozzle into one nostril, and press down on the opposing nostril.
- Spray: Compress the bottle or nozzle to release the recommended dosage of nasal spray on the inside of your nose. Lightly breathe in through your nostril as the fine mist enters.
- Repeat for Other Nostril: Repeat steps three and four for the other nostril.
- Clean the Nozzle: When finished, clean the nozzle of the nasal spray bottle in warm water and let it dry before storing it. This will prevent bacteria or mold from growing in the container and protect your health in the long term.
Side Effects and Risks
The risks and side effects of using nasal sprays can vary from product to product. However, there are some common ones that everyone should be aware of before using this medication to treat their allergy symptoms.
Dizziness and Drowsiness
Nasal sprays may cause dizziness, especially if too much is used at once. Take caution when using the product and do not drive or perform any other activities that require you to be alert until the feeling subsides.
Sticking and spraying anything up the nostril comes with the risk of nosebleeds. These can happen spontaneously when the mucus membranes are disturbed, but can also be caused by using the nasal spray too often.
Itchiness In the Nose
Not everyone reacts to nasal spray in the same way. Those with sensitive sinuses may find it more provocative than helpful to their symptoms, specifically in the way of inflammation and itchiness.
It's not uncommon to experience dryness and crustiness in the nose after using a nasal spray. This can be especially true after prolonged and consistent use, which may irritate tissues.
Burning and Stinging
Burning or stinging sensations are common side effects of nasal spray use. While often most concentrated in the nose, you may also experience them in other areas connected to the nasal passages, such as the back of your throat.
Unpleasant Taste In the Mouth
Due to the proximity of the mouth to the nasal passages, some users may experience an unpleasant taste in their mouths after applying a nasal spray. This generally only lasts for a short time and should not be a cause for concern.
Blurred Vision or Glaucoma
Some nasal medicines used to treat allergy symptoms - specifically corticosteroids - are known to raise the pressure within the sinuses and between the eyes. In some cases, use can cause blurred vision or temporary blindness.
When using nasal sprays, it's important to remember not to overuse them. Using too much can lead to a condition called rhinitis medicamentosa, which causes the rebound effect of a stuffy and blocked nose even after rinsing with saline or water.
Using nasal decongestants over a long period can cause the body to become dependent on regular doses, reducing the medication's effectiveness and contributing to chronic irritation in the nostrils.
In more severe cases of sensitivity, the nose may begin to swell after exposure to nasal spray. If this happens, contact a medical professional immediately as it may be a sign of an allergic reaction to the product itself.
Nasal Spray Alternatives
For all of the drawbacks, side effects, and risks of using nasal sprays to manage allergy symptoms, you might start asking - are there any alternative? Thankfully, there are a few:
A neti pot is an irrigation device designed to manually flush mucus and debris from the nasal passages. It consists of a container, usually a ceramic pot or plastic bottle, and a spout for the saline solution to be poured through. Insert the spout into one nostril and hold the up with your head tilted to pour the solution in, then let it filter out through the other nostril.
Saline drops are an easy way to loosen and clear up any congestion in the nostrils. These solutions can be purchased OTC, or made at home with ingredients like salt and water.
Inhalers can be used to provide quick and fast relief of nasal congestion. They typically contain decongestant ingredients like oxymetazoline hydrochloride, which can help reduce swelling in the nasal passages.
Allergy shots, also known as subcutaneous immunotherapy, reduce and prevent allergy symptoms by introducing the body to small doses of things that trigger allergies over a period of time. This accustoms it to exposure and lessens the severity of reactions in the long term. While effective, allergy shots have long been difficult to access due to the cost and time investment required.
Sublingual immunotherapy follows the same gradual process of exposure as allergy shots. Rather than requiring regular trips to the doctor's office to receive injections, this newer approach to treatment involves the patient taking oral tablets or drops containing allergens at home. This is much easier to manage and access, making it a great alternative for those who cannot receive shots or prefer not to rely on temporary fixes like nasal spray over the long term.
Take Our Allergy Assessment
If you are looking for a long-term solution to managing your allergies, consider sublingual immunotherapy. A cost-effective and accessible way to reduce allergy symptoms, our allergy drops take the hassle out of treatment. Take our allergy assessment and get started on your journey to allergy relief today!
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Take Antihistamines and Nasal Spray Together?
Generally, yes it is safe to take them together. However, antihistamines and nasal sprays can have additive effects, so it is important to talk with your doctor or pharmacist to ensure that the medications you are taking together are safe and appropriate for your needs.
Is Nasal Spray Addictive?
Nasal sprays are not addictive, however, they can be habit-forming. Overuse of nasal sprays can lead to a rebound effect, where the medication loses its effectiveness and more is needed to receive the same effect. For this reason, it's recommended that you regulate your use of nasal sprays.
What Happens If Nasal Spray Goes Down Your Throat?
If nasal spray goes down your throat, it typically isn't anything to worry about. However, if you notice any unusual symptoms or reactions, it's always a good idea to speak with your doctor or pharmacist. In some cases, the medication could irritate the stomach or cause indigestion.