Ep. 29: Doctor Approved Tips for Using Afrin Nose Spray
Afrin nose spray can be an amazing medication when it is used appropriately. Many people have heard that nose sprays can be addictive; however, this is not true of all nose sprays. Because this medication can easily be purchased over the counter, many people are confused about when they should or should not use Afrin. Well, I am here to help you out!
Is there a bad nose spray?
First of all, let’s be clear that there is not a bad nose spray. The problem only occurs when a nose spray is used incorrectly. It is important to not just say “nose spray” but to use the name and understand the medication’s purpose.
A nasal spray is any kind of medication that’s inhaled through the nose, and the 4 basic categories include:
- Decongestants –which we will talk about in a minute
- Steroids — like Flonase and Nasacort for chronic nose problems
- Antihistamines — like Patanase and Astepro
- Saline — my favorite nasal spray in the whole wide world!
Each of these sprays has a different purpose and a different reason for use. Always discuss with your physician how it should be used and not just use it like you did another nose spray. I have had way too many parents say they thought all nose sprays could be used the same way. Nope
Check out this post by the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology where they have a pretty extensive list of nasal sprays.
How does Afrin nose spray work?
Afrin is a decongestant that is sprayed directly into the nose to shrink swollen tissue. Check out my post about the fabulous functions of the nose and review how the nose works. Another commonly used decongestant is one that we take by mouth, and it is called Sudafed.
People often reach for Afrin nose spray when they have nasal congestion which is caused by dilated blood vessels in the tissues of the nose. The swollen tissue makes it difficult to breathe and can lead to symptoms such as headache, ear infection, nose bleeds, sinus infections, and many other problems.
Decongestants work very quickly, which is why people love to use them. Immediate, or near immediate gratification! Afrin nose spray can provide relief within about 10 minutes and can last up to 12 hours. Oral decongestants, like Sudafed, start working within about 30 minutes and provide relief for 6 to 24 hours.
But decongestants are all meant to only be short term treatments. The bottom line is that you need to know why you have a constantly stuffy nose.
The better long term solution is to treat underlying allergies, or sinus infections or perhaps undergo surgery to improve nasal drainage.
When should I use Afrin nose spray?
I need to always emphasize that you should have a clear explanation for the reason your nose is stuffy before beginning treatment. Viral infections and colds are some of the most common reasons that people need to find relief for nasal congestion.
There most common reasons that Afrin nose spray may be recommended by physicians include:
- Severe colds
- The Flu and other viral infections.
- Allergy flareup
- Severe newborn nasal congestion
- Sinus infections
- After nasal surgery
How do I use Afrin nose spray?
Many people avoid reading the labels on medications, but it is extremely helpful! Over the counter medications and products are always assumed to be safe because anyone can buy them at any time. Please know that all products we put into or onto our bodies may have side-effects or complications that you may not expect.
Examples of misuse of over the counter products include excessive use of Tylenol leading to liver failure and using vaseline inside the nose instead of only on the skin! Reading the labels and following directions is important especially when you do not have a physician prescribing a treatment!
The dosing for Afrin nose spray is 2 puffs in each nostril twice each day. You should NOT use it more than every 10-12 hours.
AND most importantly, you should not use Afrin more than 3 days in a row. The million dollar question is why can’t you use this awesome medication for more than three days?
Pro-tip: Please hide the Afrin nose spray from kids because they learn that it helps them to sleep at night, so they will self-medicate. I have treated more than my fair share of teens who use Afrin every other night because they cannot tolerate the withdrawal symptoms!
What happens if I use Afrin nose spray more than 3 days in a row?
This is the most important information that you need to remember about Afrin nose spray! If it is used too often and/or for more than 3 days, it can cause nasal congestion to worsen.
Physicians often call this complication “rebound nasal congestion” because the nasal swelling will rebound back, often worse than it was before using the spray. The technical name for this issue is called rhinitis medicamentosa,
This severe rebound congestion can only be improved by continuing to use the nasal spray. This becomes a vicious cycle and explains why you will hear people say they have become “addicted” to the nose spray.
In reality, people become dependent upon using Afrin nose spray but are not truly addicted. True addiction is a compulsive physiological need for and use of a habit-forming substance known to be physically, psychologically or socially harmful.
In the worst cases, patients become psychologically addicted to nasal sprays and may use several bottles weekly in an attempt to open the nasal passages.
How do you treat a nose that has become “addicted” to Afrin nose spray?
To treat the problem, patients must be cautioned to immediately stop using the product completely. A complete stop! It is not acceptable to remain on any form of “low dose” nasal decongestant.
It is fully expected that the nasal passages will become severely congested during withdrawal; however, the passages will eventually open again. Withdrawal from any chemical or substance always leads to a short term worsening of symptoms.
Most patients who have had prolonged use of the nasal sprays need medical help to remain off. My next post will discuss how to treat Afrin addiction; however, the best treatment is prevention! Meaning, only use the nose spray as directed.
It is also important to see your physician or perhaps consult with an ENT physician to determine what the underlying problem is. By creating a treatment plan, you will be able to not only treat the nasal congestion but hopefully, you will discover a way to prevent it from recurring!
There are people who have been misusing/abusing Afrin nose spray or other nasal decongestants for months or even years. Nevertheless, everyone can be successfully treated. Recovery typically takes less than one week and withdrawal symptoms can be relatively easily managed.
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