Nasal Sprays Work Best When You Use Them Correctly — Here’s How

Correct positioning key to getting the best results
correct use of nasal spray

Another sneeze, another sniffle. You can’t wait to get ahold of your non-prescription nasal decongestant spray so you can find relief for your stuffy nose — ASAP.

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“While nasal congestion can be easily treated with an over-the-counter nasal spray, using the spray is not as simple as it might seem,” says pharmacist Jessica Kravchuck, PharmD, RPh. “Correct positioning and technique is key to getting the best results.”

Proper positioning matters

Your favorite nasal spray works by shrinking the blood vessels and tissues in the sinuses, which a cold, allergies or the flu can cause to become swollen and inflamed. To use them properly, it’s important to make sure to point the nasal spray toward the back of the nose so that you can inhale the medicine.

“You never want the spray to be directed right at the nasal septum, which is the middle portion of your nose,” says Dr. Kravchuck. “When you push a spray directly onto the septum, the spray can damage the tissue, and you can end up with some irritation or a bloody nose.”

Here are a few other suggestions for using a nasal spray:

  • Before applying, gently blow your nose. This will clear your nasal passages and clear the way for the medicine.
  • Read the product directions. Be sure to shake the bottle or squirt a small amount out if so directed, which is called priming a nasal inhaler.
  • Close one nostril by pressing your finger against it. Position the bottle opening under the other nostril.
  • Gently squeeze or pump the bottle and inhale slightly and gently with your mouth closed.

Most products can be applied while you are in an upright position, so you don’t have to tilt your head back. Afterward, try to avoid blowing your nose or sneezing, and if necessary, sniff hard a few times to ensure the product remains inside and can go to work.

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For proper safekeeping, don’t share it with anyone to avoid sharing bacteria.

“Keep the bottle clean and only allow one person to use it,” she says. “Remember to wipe down the nasal spray bottle and put the cap back on after each use. You never want to share your product with someone else.

The possibility of the rebound effect

Have you ever used a nasal spray for days on end and all of a sudden you stopped feeling relief? What you may have experienced is called the rebound effect. 

“Nasal sprays aren’t addicting, but they can become habit-forming and in general, you shouldn’t use them for more than three days,” says Dr. Kravchuck. “Using them longer invites building up a tolerance to the medicines, which is called the rebound effect.”

Along with that comes common minor side effects, too. These can include a bitter smell or taste, sneezing, runny nose and nasal irritation, including burning and stinging. If you experience any major side effects, including a change in heart rate, tremors, unusual sweating or persistent nosebleeds, consult your doctor. 

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While most people can use these sprays, your doctor or pharmacist may have other recommendations if you suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism or if you’re taking other medications.

“You shouldn’t use a nasal spray if your nasal passages become damaged,” she says. “When this happens, you might need more medicine to control your congestion, or your congestion might worsen if you stop using the spray.”

If this happens, your doctor may suggest you stop using the spray for several weeks to reverse this effect.​​

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