What Happens When You Overuse Nasal Spray?

Posted by Nicole on January 8

Maybe you had a head cold or allergies a few weeks ago, and you started using medicated nasal spray to help relieve your congestion. Only now you have a problem. You are pretty sure your allergies or sickness has passed, but you are still congested. You feel okay when you use the spray. But when you try to stop using it, your congestion comes back. What is going on?

What You Are Experiencing is the Rebound Effect

You might be wondering if you are now addicted to nasal spray. The answer to that question is “no”—but you are currently dependent on taking it to not feel congested. But what is taking place is a rebound effect from medication overuse, not addiction.

What is the difference? Mayo Clinic explains, “True addiction is a compulsive physiological need for and use of a habit-forming substance known to be physically, psychologically or socially harmful. Over-the-counter nasal sprays don't cause the physiological cravings that mark an addiction.”

What Can You Do About It?

To overcome your current rebound effect, you will have to quit the nasal spray. Doing so will not be easy. You will experience worse congestion, and may also have other withdrawal side effects as well. Some of these could include sleep disruptions, anxiety, and head pain. But there is no other way. If the congestion is unbearable, ask your doctor if they can write a prescription for a round of steroids.

If you do not quit your nasal spray, not only will you remain dependent, but you could have long term complications for your health such as chronic sinusitis. So, it is worth making the effort. If you do not, the situation will go on indefinitely. Some people experience this rebound effect from nasal sprays for years!

Can you ever use medicated nasal spray again? Because you did not experience a true addiction, yes, you should be able to do so. But you will need to be more careful going forward (see below).

How Do You Prevent Nasal Spray Overuse in the Future?

The number one thing you can do to prevent this from happening again is not to overuse nasal spray. That means that you should only use one for three consecutive days, and then give your body a break, even if you are still congested.

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Look to other options for managing congestion the next time you have it. For example, you can use saline spray instead of a medicated spray. You could also try taking an oral antihistamine. Indeed, once you have experienced the unpleasantness of a dependency on medicated nasal spray, you may find yourself feeling more comfortable with these alternatives altogether.

To some extent, you may simply have to put up with congestion when you get it. But the good news is that if you do not overuse medicated nasal spray, the experience should at least be a transient one. Hopefully soon, you will be feeling better.