Using a nasal spray for your child with allergies
Nose Sprays: A Bit of Relief for Sinus Problems
Choosing the right spray and using it properly are key to sinus treatment.
By Chris Iliades, MD
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Being able to breathe through your nose is important for many reasons. When your nose is working the way it’s supposed to, it can filter, warm, and moisturize the air that you breathe.
"This is very important for sinus health," says Amber Luong, MD, PhD, associate professor in the department of otolaryngology-head and neck sugery at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. "If your nose is too dry and mucus isn't flowing, your sinuses can get backed up, and that can lead to a sinus infection. That's why over-the-counter nose sprays can be an important part of sinusitis treatment."
Why Moisture Is Important to Your Sinuses
The mucous membranes that line your nose and sinuses can become swollen and congested in response to viruses, allergies, and bacteria. In response, your nose and sinuses produce more mucus in an attempt to protect you.
If your nasal and sinus secretions are too dry, sinus pain, nasal congestion, sinusitis, and other symptoms can develop. Nasal congestion can also block the drainage of your middle ear space, which can in turn cause an ear infection. And "breathing through your mouth can make lung conditions like asthma and bronchitis worse," says Dr. Luong. Using an over-the-counter nasal spray can keep these delicate structures moist. But it's important to choose products wisely.
Choosing Saline Nose Sprays and Drops
Simple salt water — or saline — solutions reduce the thick secretions in the nose and sinuses, helping to remove irritating particles and germs.
"Using salt solutions that are available over-the-counter can be very helpful and can provide comfort," says Kathleen L. Yaremchuk, MD, an ear, nose, and throat specialist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
"A saline nose spray acts like a humidifier to keep sinus mucus moving," Luong says. "It can help wash away allergens and germs before they cause inflammation."
A saline nose spray can be especially valuable during the winter, when the air is cold and dry. If your nose is sore, you may experience some stinging. Some people are sensitive to preservatives in saline nose sprays, but there are brands available without preservatives.
Decongestant Nasal Sprays and Drops
Decongestant nasal sprays cannot be used like saline nose sprays. If they are used for more than a couple of days, you are likely to experience what’s called a rebound effect. “What this means is that when the spray wears off, you have more congestion than when you initially used the spray,” says Dr. Yaremchuk. “This is why some people get addicted to an over-the-counter decongestant and start using it more than twice a day — sometimes up to a bottle a day."
Luong says these nasal sprays work by shrinking the blood vessels inside your nose. Once that happens, a person can switch to the saline nose drops. The decongestant nose sprays, she says, are safe and effective only when they are used as directed. “Overusing a decongestant nasal spray can lead to a condition of chronic nasal congestion called rhinitis medicamentosa, which may need to be treated with steroid nose sprays,” warns Luong.
Decongestant nose sprays are most useful during the early stages of a cold or sinus infection. They may also be used to prevent sinus or ear pressure during flying.
Over-the-counter products can be a valuable addition to your sinusitis treatment regimen. But see your primary care doctor or an ear, nose, and throat specialist if you continue to have problems. And make sure to tell your doctor about any over-the-counter products you’re using.
Video: How To Use Your Nasal Steroid Spray | Dr. Thomas Lamperti | Seattle Facial Plastic Surgeon
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