What are the side effects of chronic nasal spray use?

Lawrence T. Chiaramonte, MD
Allergy & Immunology
Someone whose nose is constantly clogged because of allergic rhinitis will snort nasal sprays like Neo-Synephrine or Afrin just to breathe through her nose again. This is an effective medicine. It contains the active ingredient phenylephrine, which constricts dilated blood vessels and shrinks swollen nasal passages. But it is also temporary. When it wears off, the vessels dilate again, wider than before. That's why the label says, "If symptoms persist, consult your physician." Soon you're spraying just to counteract the effect of the medicine itself (called rhinitis medicamentosa). And it may be very difficult to give it up. An allergist can help you. It's okay to seek temporary relief for a cold, but if the cause of congestion is an underlying allergy, it will only go away at the end of the pollen season, say, or when the molds are removed from the home, and it can come back again later.

Over a long period of time, that cycle of constriction and dilation wears the blood vessels out -- hence the chopped-meat look of nasal passages. What would happen to your water pipes in your house if every time your shower got weaker you compensated by turning up the pressure of the water coming into the house, without checking the pipes themselves for leaks or blockages? Sooner or later you might have a flood. Likewise, these Neo-Synephrine addicts get nosebleeds and infections.

Neo-Synephrine and Afrin also have another complication: They are available without a prescription. Instead of the inconvenience and expense of going to a doctor, patients will choose to treat themselves. Over-the-counter drugs like these have their place in today's busy world, but they are to long-term health what a Big Mac is to a balanced diet: good for an occasional treat, but disastrous day-in, day-out.
Asthma Allergies Children: A Parent's Guide

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Asthma Allergies Children: A Parent's Guide

Asthma and allergies are at epidemic proportions. It doesn't have to be that way. Two experienced pediatric allergists tell everything a conscientious parent needs to know about these conditions,...

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.