When your nose is so stuffed that you can barely breathe, few things bring as much relief as an OTC nasal decongestant spray. The meds work on receptors in blood vessels in your nose, shrinking them down and opening nasal passages so you can stop huffing through your mouth like Dark Vader.
In fact, the spray works so well, that when you’re constantly congested (looking at you, spring allergies), you squirt several times a day. But after a few days, you find that you’re stuffier than when you started. WTF? (Learn how bone broth can boost your health with Women’s Health’s Bone Broth Diet.)
Rest easy, you can’t actually get “addicted” to nasal spray in the sense that Dr. Drew needs to stage an intervention (you don’t have a physiological “need” for the meds). But you can use it so often that you develop a condition called rhinitis medicamentosa, a.k.a., rebound congestion.
That’s because after three or four days of near-constant use, the blood vessels in your schnoz start to depend on the spray.
“They start to swell beyond their normal size, because they’re waiting for the chemical hit,” says Madeleine Schaberg, M.D., an ear, nose, and throat specialist at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai. This vicious cycle of overuse and dependence can last for months, even years. “I’ve had multiple patients that have been dependent on the spray to breathe normally for 10 years,” says Schaberg.
And the longer you rely on the spray, the more likely you are to have the rebound phenomenon.
OTC sprays are fine for two or three days, but if you’re a nasal-spray junkie, put down the bottle. Ask your M.D. to prescribe oral steroids to decrease inflammation and congestion while your sinuses recover. Use a nasal rinse or neti pot to flush out stuffy airways if needed, or try an OTC or Rx steroid nasal spray—which isn’t addictive.