To the people affected by it, it feels real. Support websites are written about it. Purported sufferers have publicly exposed their need and dilemma. Nasal spray addiction is a condition cold, flu and allergy patients claim to suffer. Does the cure only cause a new problem? How does a person break the vicious cycle?
First, doctors will tell you nasal spray addiction isn't real addiction. Your body doesn't become physiologically dependent on nasal spray. There's the good news.
However, there is a real phenomenon that compels some users of over-the-counter nasal sprays like Afrin and Neo-Synephrine to continue using these products in increasing amounts. These nasal decongestants constrict the blood vessels of the nasal lining, causing nasal passages to open. Relief is quick if not immediate.
But if the product is used for more than a few days, the body becomes tolerant and needs more spray to create the same effect. Also after a few days, discontinuing the spray can bring what doctors call rebound congestion—meaning the patient becomes as stuffy or stuffier because the blood vessels swell up and nasal passages get as congested or more congested than he was to begin with.
The net effect feels like a dependency on nasal spray.
Breaking the Cycle
Nasal decongestant sprays are meant to treat symptoms of a short-term cold or flu for only a few days. Allergy sufferers or anyone with a longer-term problem should use a different product. Many prescription nasal sprays like Flonase and Rhinocort are designed for long-term use without rebound congestion. Seeing a family physician or an allergist can help get you matched with a more appropriate product.
Another way to break free altogether is to turn to good old-fashioned oral decongestants and antihistamines. Anything from simple over-the-counter Sudafed or Chlortirmaton to prescription Novafed or Claritin will help treat the congestion from the inside out. These drugs can not only clear congestion, but can stop mucus production, which nasal sprays cannot do.
In extreme cases, some doctors will prescribe an oral steroid, like Prednisone, to help ease a nasal spray addict's symptoms while she quits the nasal spray cold turkey.
Using something as simple as nasal saline drops and sprays can help create the "quick fix" feeling of clearing sinus passages without using any drug at all. Nasal saline drops are available over the counter in pharmacies and chemists and pose no threat or side effects.
No matter what, quitting the nasal spray cold turkey is the only way to go. According to Dr. James T Li of the Mayo Clinic, even if a nasal spray addict chooses not to change to one of these other medications to address their congestion, the grip of the rebound congestion will dissipate within a few weeks of quitting.
The biggest problem with "nasal spray addiction" is the damage it can do. Over the counter nasal decongestants are meant for short-term use. Sustained use can cause extreme damage to the nasal lining resembling chemical burns.
Patients are generally safer either using oral decongestants or seeing a physician about better choices in nasal spray products, or both.