ZocdocAnswersAre nasal sprays addictive?

Question

Are nasal sprays addictive?

Can you become addicted to the nasal sprays you buy at stores that clear out mucous and your sinuses? My partner has a history and I am worried about her using these.

Answer

I am sorry to hear that you are worried about your partners use of over-the-counter nasal sprays, however I am sure that they are appreciative to have a partner that cares so much about them. There are many different types of nasal sprays that can be bought over the counter. The way that most of the decongestants work is that they have a vasoconstrictive effect on the small blood vessels within the nose. There are erectile tissues within the nose along the septum (divider going down the middle of the nose) and the turbinates (radiator-like structures that run along the lateral walls of the nasal passageway). This erectile tissue functions to swell and help decrease airflow through the nose during something called the nasal cycle to help with healthy moisturizing of the air as it is inhaled. The benefit of vasoconstrictive nasal sprays like Afrin (or oxymetazoline) is that they work rapidly. They do however lose their effect relatively rapidly as well. This sets up a situation where the individual needs to keep using the spray to obtain the desired effect of decongestion. For this reason patients can become dependent on the spray to maintain the "openness" of their nasal airways. This is different physiologically than an "addiction", however there is a phenomenon called "rebound" during which the obstruction experienced after stopping Afrin can be worse then it was to begin with even before starting it. For this reason I don;t recommend stopping "cold-turkey". I would recommend making an appointment with an ENT to be evaluated where they can do a thorough exam and determine why the spray is needed in the first place. I wish you the best of luck.

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