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Addiction to OTC Nasal Sprays

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 20 Oct 2017 | comments*Discuss
Addictions Nasal Sprays Over-the-counter

While the word ‘addiction’ has different meanings to many of us, its use for nasal sprays refers more to the rebound effect of regular medication use. In turn, the person feels compelled to keep using the product to obtain the same relief. Making matters worse is that more of the product must be used for the same effect.

This is the nature of over-the-counter (OTC) nasal sprays and the use of the term ‘addiction’ needs to be understood in this context. Clearly, it is not the same as many classic addictions such as alcohol or illegal drug addiction.

What Happens When Using Nasal Sprays?

When you use an OTC nasal spray, after several days of use you might begin to find your nose does not respond to the medication as well as it did when you started the drug therapy. The result is that you feel compelled to use more of the medication to control your congestion.

To compound matters, the congestion can actually worsen if you stop using the medication. It is not classical addiction in this sense but rather, what we call a medication rebound effect.

A person does not experience the classical addiction signs such as a compulsive craving for the medication. They do, however, still feel they must use it to prevent the rebound effect and obtain that same relief from their congestion.

The Science of Nasal Sprays

When you spray your nose, the very small blood vessels in your mucuous membranes begin to constrict. The result is a feeling of relief but after chemicals such as phenylephrine start to wear off, you feel the congestion again.

The more and more you use the chemicals, the worse your original symptoms can become. It’s a vicious cycle that has led to OTC nasal sprays being coined as ‘addictive’ for those who use them.

Frequent Use of OTC Nasal Sprays

Some people aren’t just using these sprays to combat symptoms from a common ailment such as a cold or flu. Instead, they may suffer chronic congestion for other reasons, leading to a need for a regular medication.

OTC nasal sprays are not meant for long-term use, but the fact that some people do use them regularly is a problem in itself. These people are more likely to experience the rebound effect of OTC nasal sprays along with an eventual worsening of their congestion.

What Can You Do?

Most doctors will recommend that you do not use an OTC nasal spray for more than a few consecutive days. Prescription nasal sprays may contain steroids and should be followed only according to the directions of your doctor and pharmacist.

Alternative Treatments for Congestion

It is also worth trying some natural remedies under your doctor’s advice, as they do not contain the chemicals within OTC nasal sprays. Keep in mind though that natural is not equal to safe, which means caution and good sense should always still apply. Check the ingredient list and still use the minimum you need for relief.

Even though we think of medications as safe, they still come with unexpected consequences. If you need to use an OTC nasal spray, use it carefully and see your doctor if you are concerned you are suffering from the rebound effect. With the right approach, you can get relief from congestion without the ‘addictive’ qualities that a medicine can bring with it.

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I started using OTC nasal spray at about 14 years old, I am now 61...I have had deviated septum surgery. I have tried several treatments to get rid of this addiction, they work for a couple of months and then something like allergies of a cold happen and I go right back to using OTC NS. I abuse Afrin Severe Congestion, I was using 4-Way during my early years, but my ex-wife used to tell me that it caused a bad-smell (?!?). A bottle of Afrin, normally lasts me 2 weeks, unless is allergy season or I get a cold then it can go from 4 days to a week. I normally spray twice every 6-8 hours, at nighttime I can go for over 12 hours without using it. In the winter months I use it less, but in the summer months, I tend to use it more often. I have tried saline solutions, allergy medications along with Flonase, I have been off OTC NS, for almost a year, but then allergies returned and I go back to using it, it relieves the nasal congestion and it helps me breathe easier. Doctors don’t see it as a big problem, they do see it as an addiction, but in my case, at least, they try, but not in an aggressive manner.
airpup236 - 20-Oct-17 @ 4:53 PM
I have used Sudafed nasal spray for many years to help with a sinus problem. Having been prescribed with a steroid spray this caused a severe reaction and I was told by a doctor that it was ok to continue to use Sudafed. Having caught a cold in May this year (the first time in 5 years) I have lost my sense of smell and taste. I still use Sudafed spray but it has become less and less effective. How can I get relief from been unable to breath through my nose.
Bessie - 5-Nov-14 @ 10:47 PM
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