nasal spray, nose spray addiction

When you start taking a new prescription, you should always ask the prescriber for detailed information on when and how you should stop taking it. This consideration can be just as important for OTC medicines, but it is almost never provided. We have heard from scores of people who have had trouble with nose spray addiction.

Is Nose Spray Addiction Real?

Q. I have read on your website about people who became nose drop junkies. I too had this problem.

Years ago, on assignment in Australia I was scuba diving. When I caught a cold, I used Afrin to keep diving, and a year and a half later I was still using this nasal spray.

Not being able to breathe is horrible. I kept thinking I’d deal with it tomorrow; today I want to breathe.

I later did a story on cocaine treatment, and the director of the clinic told me about nose spray addiction. When nasal decongestants are used, the small blood vessels in the nose constrict. As the effect wears off, the nasal tissues become even more congested than before.

The cure was simple: I took an oral decongestant for two weeks. During that time breathing wasn’t perfect, but it finally returned to normal. I will never use nose spray again, now that I know it can be so addictive.

How Can You Overcome Nose Spray Addiction?

A. People don’t get high from nose drops, but many have difficulty kicking the habit. Rebound congestion is uncomfortable and can occur after three days of use.

You are spot on with regard to the mechanism. The vasoconstriction effect of the decongestant spray allows you to breathe beautifully for several hours. But if you keep using the products day after day, the body adapts. When you stop suddenly the prolonged rebound congestion may be even worse than the original stuffiness.

Oral decongestants may help relieve symptoms, but some people need stronger medicine. Prescription steroids (pills or sprays) can relieve stuffiness while a person is gradually weaned off OTC nasal decongestants.

Diluting Your Nose Spray:

Some people have come up with elaborate dilution strategies whereby they gradually reduce the strength of the nasal spray decongestant with a saline solution and wean themselves first in one nostril and then eventually in the other.

Using a Steroid Spray to Beat Nose Spray Addiction:

Q. I have a suggestion for the person who wrote about being addicted to nasal spray. I was hooked on Neo-Synephrine for more than 30 years.

Then I read that a prescription for Flonase could help. I was very skeptical but my doctor had no problem writing me a prescription.

I put one spray in each nostril and by that evening I had not used the Neo-Synephrine and threw the bottle away. That was in 1999. I had tried every method I heard about and nothing worked until I used Flonase, which I still use occasionally. I have shared my experience with other folks who are hooked on nasal sprays.

A. Fluticasone (Flonase) is a corticosteroid nose spray that helps reduce inflammation. It was prescribed to treat seasonal allergies such as hay fever and now is available without a prescription. It can also ease the rebound congestion that causes such misery when a decongestant nasal spray is halted suddenly.

Of course, nothing is perfect. We have heard from readers who have had difficulties with fluticasone.

Pat reported:

“I found that using it nightly over time to relieve nasal congestion caused me to have nose bleeds! It was destroying the nasal membranes. I now use Neo-synephrine 3x a week with no negative results.”

TM had a more serious reaction:

“I used Flonase for years. I developed cataracts on both eyes and had to have the cataracts removed when I was in my 50s. They don’t tell you that Flonase and other steroid nose sprays can contribute to the early development of cataracts but I found that out after it was too late. Also, for me, Flonase stopped working after awhile so it was back to the addictive nose sprays.

“I have tried everything and while some remedies work for some periods of time nothing has worked consistently over the years better than the addictive nose sprays. My congestion is always at night so it’s either use the sprays or I can’t sleep. I have tried decongestants and they clear up my nasal passages but the ingredients keep me awake. Some have suggested Bendadryl but this doesn’t decongest me.

“I wish there was a remedy that would help with my severe night time nasal congestion while letting me sleep through the night!”

Other Medicines That Can Be Hard to Stop:

The body is amazing in its ability to adapt to pharmaceuticals. Sometimes quitting a medicine can a lot harder than people think, and we’re not just talking about drugs of abuse. Even stopping acid-suppressing drugs used for easing symptoms of heartburn can be challenging. To read more about quitting proton pump inhibitors like Aciphex, Nexium, Prevacid, Prilosec and Protonix visit this link.

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  1. Terri M.

    I was addicted to this crap for over ten years! I was finally able to abolish my addiction through slowly weaning myself off of it over a period of about 5-6 weeks. It worked with hardly any discomfort, (although there was still a bit of congestion along the way, but it was at least manageable). I will NEVER use another nasal spray as long as I live. The stuff should be illegal! Good luck to all :)

  2. bookfan20

    As a lifelong sufferer with allergies, and last year a series of sinus infections, I went to a new allergist, who gave me 2 different meds, both nasal sprays, Ipratropium Bromide (Fluticasone), which is not a steroid, and Dymista, which is a steroid. He also said I should continue with my morning and bedtime regular OTC Nasal Saline to keep the nasal passages from tending to be a petrie dish. The result was immediate and lasting. I only had to take the Dymista for 2 weeks, and then just continued to use the Ipratropamine Bromide as needed, averaging 3-4 days a week. Of course, no matter what, I use the OTC Nasal Saline morning and before bed. Don’t forget, while we are laying down all night, the drainage often backs up our sinuses.
    But the best care he gave me was printed information to help me understand that yes, I do have allergies to a few things, (birch trees, dust, ragweed), but my main cause of sinus problems is likely due to Vasomotor Rhinitis (VMR). This condition mimics nasal allergies. Its hard to determine the difference. But as one of many people I know who complained about “having allergies all year round” or “every time I go from outside to inside change of temperature, etc., my nose starts to run”, I know the VMR is responsible for most of my reactions. Because VMR is caused by hyper-responsiveness of the nasal mucosa to various stimuli and not by allergy, allergy injections are not beneficial for this condition, unless there are co-existing nasal allergies, e.g. in August, due to Ragweed blooming and blowing around, my symptoms would be worse than in February. On bad days, I will use the Dymista.
    The take-away is that one size of meds and treatment does not fit all, and the cause of the allergic reactions may be not just from outside invaders/irritants, but can also be due to an individual’s hyperfunctioning nerve endings within the nasal mucosa. As with most medications, our bodies often become accustomed to a medication, or, in reverse, may become irritated with prolonged use, and we find we then have to try a different medication for awhile.
    I hope this helps someone.

  3. Dorothy

    Here’s a thought. Have you thought about what else you are ‘addicted’ to? I was addicted to a nose spray, NTZ in the 50’s, 60’s. My freedom came from a ENT doctor who prescribed a Zpack drug (prednisone), and a week in Miami (already planned) where the salt water was going to help with the treatment. I analyzed my need and discovered that I was a heavy smoker as well, and a few other ‘needs’. I realized that I also liked the smell of Liquor, and even though my consumption was almost zero, I stopped all contact with whiskey. I remember picking up my first cigarette at 5 years old.
    Today, I still hate a stuffy nose, and keep a product named Benzadrex, that comes in a little cylinder that one breathes in, such as a Vick’s inhaler that we all know so well. An occasional whiff of this if the weather is heavy or such. Good Luck, all of you who need our support.

  4. ray

    I used nasal sprays for 50 yrs. During spring daily. Because of over use, it’s basicly useless for me. I now take the lowest dose (10 mg) Sudafed during day (you cant get to sleep taking Sudafed) Flonase, and fast acting nose spray at bedtime. You can also use pepper spice or hot sause will help open sinus or head-cold. I tried every med made, every home remedy, and that what works best for me without causing rebound nasal congestion.

  5. phil
    Turlock, Ca

    With my own experience of a very badly plugged right nostril (badly deviated septum from childhood accident), I was able to help keep the nostril open for years with Vicks Sinex 12 hour nasal spray. Worked mostly great, until having to use more and more of it at one time.

    Quit cold turkey, and started using “Ayr” brand saline nasal mist, as well as their no drip saline nasal gel. Took about three days to get through the desperation, but works well!

    Oftentimes when you feel your nose is plugged, it’s plugged. But, it can also feel plugged when it’s only dried out. This is why a saline mist or get will often help, and there is never any rebound problems with saline!

  6. Dennis

    I’m now 67 years old and in my lifetime I have been addicted to nasal sprays several times. My proven solutions are: 1. Switch from the 4-hour to the 12-hour medication. It is less addictive. When you feel the need to re-medicate, make yourself wait one hour first. You can do this. When you do use it first check which nostril is more clogged by covering each with a finger. Then only medicate the worst nostril. After a few days you will discover that only the nostril you are re-medicating is clogged. This is encouraging. lastly, when you use, only do one spray instead of two. After a week or so you should be ready to extend the times between sprays even longer until you quit. Good luck! This works!!

  7. Chaela

    Found flonase, prescribed by MD, just great during two week allergy spell. Coming off congestion was worse than ever. I use the single ingredient OTC inexpensive choice — loratidine (active ingredient in Claritin which is outrageously priced). Please suggest that folks read labels and use the least amount of chemicals needed — split pills to find out if lower doses work before moving onto suggested doses. Physicians are not objective, educated guardians of your pharmaceutical product.

  8. Katharine

    At one time I also experienced Afrin “addiction” but have developed a strategy which works for me: use one puff in one nostril per night, and the next night use one puff in the other nostril. This way I am getting a very minimal dosage every 24 hours and on one side only. When I am in a place where there are no allergens, Afrin can be skipped altogether. I have found that I can breathe comfortably with only one nostril uncongested.

  9. Barbara

    I too was addicted to Afrin. I couldnt go any longer than 15 min without it. It was a painful process to break the habit but this worked for me. I would apply a hot compress to my sinuses (and cry because it hurt so bad.) Then I would eat really hot green chile salsa which would open up my sinuses. I found this would also work if I was starting to get a little sinus infection. It would also help to go for a run or fast walk to get the sinuses open. If I get a little stuffed up out comes the green chile. I have read there are medicinal properties in green chile.

  10. Anne
    Washington State

    Does this concern apply to NasalCrom?

  11. Robert

    I have not found anyone talk about nasal flush with salt water. Simple flush twice a day and the use of a plain OTC antibiotic ointment with a Qtip swab after flush. I am a firm believer that everyone’s DNA is different. What works for one, may not for another. Try it. I did.

  12. Ro

    Nasalcrom, not a steroid and no “bounce back” congestion. The only nasal spray allergy med I will use, though pharmacies around here don’t carry it, so I ordered it on line.

    • Helen

      Where do you find Nasalcrom online?

  13. Jane
    Durham NC

    I have a problem with asthma and nasal congestion but found good old Vicks Vaporub is the answer. I keep a little blue jar next to my bed at night and if I feel congestion coming on I spread some Vick’s on the outside of my nose and upper lip. Inhale deeply for a few minutes and drift off to sleep. Works every time.

    • Patricia

      This works for me too, except I only put the Vicks on the inside of the rim of my nose, to keep it off my nasal mask for sleep apnea.

  14. Peggy
    Chama, NM

    One product that has no side effects and is very effective at clearing a stuffy nose is Xlear. It is available at Walmart and other stores. It is made with xylitol, the sweetener used in toothpaste. I use it whenever necessary and it quickly relieves congestion. I highly recommend it!

  15. Bill

    I too have the problem of nasal rebounding because of nose sprays. I have the added problem of suffering from Sleep Apnia. So at night I have to wear a mask that covers my nose to keep constant pressure in my airway to relieve the apnea.

    Years ago now, I got a bad cold and started to use a spray so I could breath through my nose. After a week I was hooked. At my bedtime my nose would close and I had to spray to be able to breath through my nose.

    One necessary evil compounded because of another. I tried a nasal steroid spray but it didn’t work fast enough to really help. Any thoughts?

  16. jill

    Sudafed stopped working after 5 days. Diluting nose spray does nothing. Prednisone did nothing either. Help,

  17. Robert

    I was addicted for about 3 years myself. I remember going to different pharmacies throughout my area to buy the Afrin. I didn’t want the staff at Walgreens or CVS to remember me, and think I was some kind of addict. I look back on it now, and it was like I was a crack addict or something. I remember one night being out at a bar with my friends, and my Afrin high was wearing off, and I reached in my pocket, and didn’t have a bottle. Talk about panic! Needless to say, the rest of the night was miserable, until I could get to a 24 hour Walgreens. Anyways, I just went cold turkey. I was totally miserable for about 2-3 days. My nose felt like a brick it was so thick. I have never looked back since.

  18. jorge
    san juan puerto rico

    I am on my second day of quitting i have been on nasal spray for over 20 years now and it’s terrible, i couldn’t be without it, I used to buy buy on e-bay 6 pack and 12 packs just to have around in the car, house , office everywhere, i am using saline mist now but i still have my nose clogged and am desperate for nose spray but i know the danger in it so i will just have to go thru this terrible habit.

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