What Are the Side Effects of Nasal Decongestant Spray?

Written by shannon peddicord
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What Are the Side Effects of Nasal Decongestant Spray?
(Photo courtesy MorgueFile.com (http://www.morguefile.com/data/image Data/public/files/j/jusben/preview/fldr_2008_11_17/file000610639493.jpg))

Whether you're congested due to allergies or an upper respiratory infection, it can be miserable enough to interfere with your productivity, comfort and sleep cycles. While there's no sure-fire cure for the nasal congestion caused by blood vessel dilation and tissue inflammation, it can be temporarily relieved with the use of a topical decongestant spray.


Nasal decongestant sprays can be purchased over the counter and are available in many brands. Active ingredients in the sprays include oxymetazoline, xylometazoline, phenylephrine and ephedrine. These decongestants tend to work faster than their oral counterparts, and patients do not usually experience drowsiness when using the spray form.


To maximise the benefits of your nasal decongestant spray, blow your nose thoroughly before using the medication. Hold your head upright and place the nozzle inside of your nose, squeezing the bottle and inhaling. It's important to breathe in deeply to improve the medication's distribution. Continue to sniff several times after spraying to send the medicine deep into the nasal passages.

Each brand of nasal decongestant spray contains specific instructions for use, and dosage varies with short- and long-acting medications. Follow the dosing instructions or your physician's orders when using any nasal decongestant spray.


Nasal decongestant sprays are used for temporary relief of stuffy nose, sinus congestion and Eustachian tube fullness. As nasal membranes swell, they block the sinus passages and prevent them from draining effectively. When you use a decongestant spray, the medication reduces sinus tissue swelling, allowing sinuses to drain and nasal passages to open.

If you're experiencing an itchy or runny nose, decongestants are not the answer. Antihistamines are more effective for these types of symptoms.

Side Effects

Nasal decongestant sprays are generally safe, but some patients may experience short-term stinging, irritation or sinus dryness. The most common side effect of these medications, however, is "rebound congestion." When topical decongestants are used for more than three to five days, they become less effective. Patients require additional doses to achieve the same effect, and this overuse creates a dependency and actually exacerbates their congestion.

Rebound congestion typically resolves itself after being off of the offending medication for several days, but if dependency continues, it can cause permanent damage to the sinus membranes. This condition is called rhinitis medicamentosa, and it includes severe nasal dryness, stuffiness and even regular nose bleeds.


While nasal decongestant sprays are a convenient way of relieving annoying stuffiness, they're not for everyone. Consult your physician before using a nasal spray if you have a chronic medical condition, including heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, emphysema or thyroid disease.

Nasal decongestants may also exacerbate headaches or even cause strokes in patients taking some antidepressants, diet pills or anti-migraine drugs. Read medication labels carefully and discuss your medication list with a health practitioner if you're concerned about potential drug contraindications.

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