Here's the scenario: A few seasons ago you suffered from congestion. You've been well for a long time, but can't seem to get rid of that stuffy nose.
Some nights you wake up in a panic as you try to find your bottle of nasal spray on your bedside table – and you don't understand why you still need it.
Could it be that you've developed an addiction, and is it serious?
A dependence on nasal spray is pretty real. Why else would there be a warning on the label that you shouldn’t use it for more than three to five days?
It’s an official condition
Nasal spray dependence is such a well-known problem that there's even a name for the term: rhinitis medicamentosa. This describes the adverse nasal congestion that develops after using nasal decongestants longer than the recommended period of time.
How does a nasal spray work?
Not all nasal sprays are the same. There are several nasal sprays available on the market that contain steroids, saline or antihistamine.
Some nasal sprays contain a drug group called vasoconstrictors, which include norepinephrine and pseudoephedrine. These ones get rid of a stuffy nose by shrinking the congested blood vessels in the area, thereby opening up your nasal passages.
Other nasal sprays may contain anti-inflammatory steroids to reduce swelling and mucus in the nose.
Steroid nasal sprays usually do not offer immediate relief and can take a couple of days to be fully effective.
The blood vessels only respond to the chemicals in nasal sprays for a few days. After that, the nasal spray no longer has any effect.
Call your doctor when:
- You only suffer from nasal congestion with no other symptoms.
- You get withdrawal symptoms such as headaches when you don’t use your nasal decongestant.
- You need to use more decongestant to get relief.
How to break the dependence
- Switch to a saline spray or use something like Vicks Vaporub or natural herbal remedies.
- Go completely "cold turkey".
- Discuss the matter with your doctor.
- Try oral antihistamines to clear up nasal congestion.
Image credit: iStock