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Take Care with Nasal Decongestant Sprays

Many people turn to a medicated nasal decongestant spray to offer fast relief for a stuffy and running nose. It can reduce swelling and clear mucus from nasal passages quickly.

In fact, these products often work so well that people are tempted to use them for too long. If you use a medicated decongestant nasal spray for more than 3 days in a row, you may develop rebound rhinitis medicamentosa (RM) when you do stop. This condition can cause prolonged sinus congestion. It may even damage your nasal passages over time.

RM can be quite uncomfortable. Using the nasal decongestant spray again helps you feel a little better. That’s why many people tend to keep using it, often more frequently and persistently. This creates a vicious cycle.

If you’re in this situation, ask your healthcare provider for advice. Ask how to taper off using the spray. And ask for help finding a safe way to deal with your congestion. You can also ask your pharmacist about other choices.

Nasal sprays that have only saline are one option. They use saline to moisturize the nostrils and reduce mucus and crust buildup. Topical steroid sprays are another option. Many over-the-counter decongestants taken by mouth (oral) may ease pressure in the nasal passages. But they don’t ease a runny nose. They also can have side effects. These include lightheadedness and dizziness. They may also increase your blood pressure.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises against using cold remedies for children. Cough and cold products are not effective in treating symptoms of children under 6 years old. And some serious health problems have been linked to the use of these medicines in children. For a stuffy nose, the AAP advises the following:

  • Use saline nose drops to thin nasal mucus. Ask your child's healthcare provider which ones to use. Never use nonprescription nose drops that contain any medicine.

  • Use a suction bulb to clear your baby's nose. First squeeze the bulb, then gently put the rubber tip into one nostril and slowly release the bulb. Gentle suction draws clogged mucus out of the nose. This works best for babies younger than 6 months old.

  • Use a cool-mist humidifier in your child's room. This can help moisten the air and clear a child's nasal passages. Clean and dry the humidifier each day to prevent bacterial and mold contamination.

Medical Reviewers:

  • Andrew D Schriber MD
  • Dan Brennan MD
  • Jessica Gotwals RN BSN MPH