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How do I Choose the Best over the Counter Nasal Spray?

Selecting the best over-the-counter nasal spray hinges on your symptoms. For congestion, a decongestant spray offers quick relief, while a saline solution gently moisturizes dry nasal passages. If allergies are your concern, a steroid spray might be your ally. Always check with a pharmacist for compatibility with other medications. What symptoms are you aiming to soothe with a nasal spray?
Erin J. Hill
Erin J. Hill

It is important to choose an over-the-counter nasal spray based on your symptoms as well as their severity. Most sprays are meant to help alleviate symptoms of the common cold, allergies, and flu. You should choose the nasal spray with the least possible medication that will still be effective, especially if you are pregnant or nursing. The main types of nasal spray the are available without a prescription are saline and oxymetazoline hydrochloride.

Saline-based nasal spray is made of mostly water and a salt solution. This is used to help calm the inflamed tissue in the nasal cavity that may lead to a stuffy and runny nose. In most cases, saline-based sprays are safe for pregnant women, although it is still important to talk to a medical professional before using one. If you are still unsure about the safety of an over-the-counter saline spray, you can make your own by mixing sterile water with little salt. Children's varieties are also available.

An over the counter nasal spray.
An over the counter nasal spray.

The most effective type of over-the-counter nasal spray is generally one that is oxymetazoline hydrochloride-based. You should only use oxymetazoline hydrochloride as directed, and do not use it for more than five days to prevent damage to the nasal passages. Generally, patients are advised to use two or three sprays in each nostril once every 12 hours while symptoms persist.

There are various kinds of nasal sprays.
There are various kinds of nasal sprays.

If you only have a mild stuffy nose, you may want to avoid using an oxymetazoline hydrochloride-based sprays. They can be habit-forming, which means continued use may lead to an addiction. This could cause serious damage to the nasal tissue, and may even make your symptoms continue even after cold or allergies have passed. In some severe cases, nose bleeds and a long-term dependency on the product may occur. If you believe you may have a dependency on nasal spray, contact a healthcare professional for treatment options.

Saline-based nasal spray consists mostly of a salt-water solution.
Saline-based nasal spray consists mostly of a salt-water solution.

There is also an over-the-counter nasal spray that may help prevent symptoms of a cold from starting. Generally, you should use this product when symptoms first begin to appear. Most patients notice a reduced number of symptoms as well as a shorter cold in general. Other nasal sprays may be used in the treatment of allergies.

Pregnant women are advised against using medicated nasal sprays, especially those containing oxymetazoline hydrochloride. This is mainly due to the fact that very little research has been done on the potential effects the medication may have on a developing baby. If you truly feel you need to use a medicated nasal spray during pregnancy for severe discomfort, talk to a medical professional about treatment options. Avoiding certain medications is especially important during the first trimester.

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Discussion Comments


I frequently use a saline nasal spray, especially in the winter when the dry indoor heat dries out my nasal passages.

Though this type of nasal spray doesn't contain oxymetazoline hydrochloride, I think that it helps you breathe better because it moisturizes the inside of your nose. By doing this, it also helps reduce irritations and swelling of the nasal passages, which in turn allows more air to flow through them.

A saline nasal spray is a safe and effective way to breathe easier without the risk of becoming addicted to this product. And even if you do feel like you can't live without it, that's o.k. because it doesn't contain drugs that can be harmful if it is used excessively.


@ocelot60-Your sister is probably using a nasal spray that contains oxymetazoline hydrochloride. Just like the article describes, people who use this medication can easily become addicted to it, because they feel like they can't breathe through their nostrils without using one.

Not admitting her addiction to her nasal spray is a good sign that your sister feels like she can't live without it. Also, if you notice her using it frequently, sniffling excessively, and avoiding the subject, you should gently suggest that she talk to her doctor. Though breaking the habit of suing a oxymetazoline hydrochloride nasal spray can be hard, it can be done if the patient is serious about learning how to breathe without it.


Has anyone ever known of someone who was addicted to using the type of nasal spray that is used to relieve a stuffy nose? I think my sister is addicted, but she won't admit it.

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    • An over the counter nasal spray.
      By: duckman76
      An over the counter nasal spray.
    • There are various kinds of nasal sprays.
      By: kirillica
      There are various kinds of nasal sprays.
    • Saline-based nasal spray consists mostly of a salt-water solution.
      By: ia_64
      Saline-based nasal spray consists mostly of a salt-water solution.