Constantly Congested? Ease Up on the Nasal Spray

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Between winter cold and flu germs and spring allergies, our noses really can’t catch a break right now. We’ll try anything to get some relief. But experts say regular use of some treatments, especially nasal sprays, could do more harm than good.

Over-the-counter (OTC) decongestant sprays work by reducing inflammation in your nose’s blood vessels, clearing a path so that precious air can flow freely in and out. It’s not a bad solution for short-term stuffiness. But over time with frequent use, your body will come to rely on the drug’s influence. (The same thing is true of OTC painkillers like Advil.)

Madeleine Schaberg is an ear, nose, and throat specialist at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai. The blood vessels of a regular nasal spray user “start to swell beyond their normal size, because they’re waiting for the chemical hit,” she told Women’s Health magazine. It’s a condition called rhinitis medicamentosa (that is, an irritated nose created by medicine use).

To treat the swelling, most people use more nasal spray, unwittingly making the problem worse. “I’ve had multiple patients that have been dependent on the spray to breathe normally for 10 years,” she said.

So what’s a poor, stuffed-up sucker to do?

Many people find relief with non-drug saline inhalers or nasal rinses. If your congestion is severe or especially long-lasting, you might want to talk to your doctor about prescription options like corticosteroids, which reduce inflammation. If your congestion is allergy-related, washing your hands and face regularly can help keep allergens from getting into your system.

And you don’t have to throw away your spray altogether. Limit yourself to three days in a row, then give your poor nostrils a rest.

[h/t Women's Health]