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Allergy Nasal Spray: Types And Side Effects

Treating Your Allergy Symptoms

Camille Freking, MS Pharmacology Profile Photo

Written by Camille Freking, MS Pharmacology on November 11, 2021

When you’re experiencing an allergy attack, you’re willing to do pretty much anything to feel better quickly. In recent decades, allergy nasal sprays have become popular as a quick and effective treatment that helps treat allergy symptoms, but what is an allergy nasal spray and how does it work?

What is an allergy nasal spray?

Allergy nasal sprays are treatments that are used to help relieve allergy symptoms affecting the nasal passages, such as sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, itchiness, or dryness. There are four primary types of allergy nasal sprays: saline nasal sprays, decongestant nasal sprays, antihistamine nasal sprays, and corticosteroid nasal sprays. Each of them works differently and is used for slightly different reasons.

Saline Nasal Spray

Saline nasal sprays are a type of allergy nasal spray that contains a salt water (sodium chloride) solution. This type of nasal spray does not contain any medication, so it can easily be purchased over the counter without requiring a prescription; it can also be created at home with simple ingredients.

Although saline nasal sprays do not contain any medication, they can provide comfort for individuals suffering from allergy symptoms by dissolving and loosening the mucus in the nasal passages, preventing the nasal passages from drying out, and adding moisture to the nasal passages to prevent them from becoming more inflamed.

Saline nasal sprays are popular because they are safe for use in children and other people who may be sensitive to certain types of medication that are commonly used to treat allergies. Saline nasal sprays can be used as often as needed and can also be used to help clear congestion in people who are unable to properly blow their nose.

Decongestant Nasal Spray

Decongestant nasal sprays are another popular type of allergy nasal spray. This type of nasal spray contains a decongestant medication, and it can be purchased over the counter or with a prescription depending on the product and the strength of the active ingredients.

Decongestant nasal sprays are used to help narrow the blood vessels that are found in the inner linings of the nose. When people are suffering from an allergy attack, the blood vessels become dilated, causing inflammation that can contribute to increased mucus production and congestion. Narrowing the blood vessels reduces inflammation, which can help a person breathe more easily and reduce pressure in the nasal cavity.

Decongestant nasal sprays contain medication, so they must be used as directed. Generally speaking, this type of medication should not be used in children under the age of six, and children under the age of 12 should only use decongestant nasal sprays with adult supervision and under the guidance of a pediatrician.

In general, decongestant nasal sprays are intended for short-term use. When used for three or more days in a row, decongestant nasal sprays can cause a “rebound effect” that can actually start to worsen nasal congestion. If your congestion does not improve within three days, contact your doctor before continuing to use the nasal spray.

Some decongestant nasal sprays have a stimulant effect that can keep you from sleeping soundly at night. This effect is more commonly seen in oral decongestants, but some people may experience the stimulant effect when using a decongestant nasal spray. As a result, people with high blood pressure or heart disease should speak with their doctor before using any medication that contains decongestants, as these medications may cause blood pressure to increase.

Antihistamine Nasal Spray

Antihistamine nasal sprays are medicated nasal sprays that work by stopping the action of histamine, a chemical produced by the immune system as part of an allergic reaction. The body begins to produce histamine when exposed to an allergen, such as pollen or dust mites. Histamine causes the symptoms that are commonly associated with an allergy attack, such as swollen nasal passages, itchy nose or eyes, and runny nose. As a result, antihistamine nasal sprays are most helpful when used to treat a runny nose, postnasal drip, or itchy, watery eyes.

Antihistamines can also be administered as oral medications. Regardless of the method of administration, the most common side effect of antihistamine medications is drowsiness, so it’s best to use antihistamines at night before heading to bed. Antihistamine nasal sprays can also cause temporary burning in the nasal passages or a bitter taste in the mouth.

Corticosteroid Nasal Spray

Steroid nasal sprays, sometimes referred to as corticosteroids, are medications that help relieve nasal congestion by reducing inflammation. Steroids in general are used to reduce inflammation in the body, and steroid nasal sprays can be purchased both over the counter and with a prescription depending on the medication and its strength.

The most common application of steroid nasal sprays is the treatment of nasal congestion caused by allergies, although the sprays can also be used to temporarily alleviate congestion caused by a sinus infection or cold.

Unlike antihistamines and decongestants, corticosteroid nasal sprays need to be used consistently since it may take some time for the corticosteroid to produce maximum effects. As a result, many people use steroid allergy sprays daily during their peak allergy season, while others use them year-round for perennial allergies.

How do allergy nasal sprays work?

Each type of allergy nasal spray works a bit differently to help relieve symptoms associated with allergies. The way that a spray works is determined by the type of medication it contains, if any.

Saline Nasal Spray

Saline nasal sprays do not contain any medications, but they still work to help improve symptoms associated with nasal congestion.

First, saline nasal sprays work by washing irritants like allergens and viruses out of your nasal passages, which means your body has less time to trigger an immune response that can cause congestion.

Second, saline nasal sprays restore moisture to dry nasal passages, which can help reduce inflammation and nasal congestion. If you’re using multiple nasal sprays, the saline nasal spray should be used before a medicated nasal spray. Otherwise, the saline nasal spray could wash out the medication from the other spray.

Finally, the use of a saline nasal spray helps to thin and loosen the extra mucus that lines the nasal passages and sinuses. That makes it easier to blow your nose and reduces feelings of discomfort caused by congestion.

Decongestant Nasal Spray

Decongestant nasal sprays work by delivering decongestant medication to the tissues of the nose and nasal passages. This type of nasal spray works by narrowing the blood vessels and shrinking the tissues in the nasal passages and sinuses, which become swollen and inflamed due to allergies or sickness.

Swollen, inflamed nasal tissues begin to overproduce mucus, which can further contribute to congestion and a runny nose. Reducing inflammation helps to minimize nasal congestion and allows you to breathe more easily.

Antihistamine Nasal Spray

Antihistamine nasal sprays work by delivering medication that blocks the effect of histamine, a chemical produced by the immune system in response to allergens. Antihistamines bind to histamine receptors in the body and block the effects of histamine. As a result, symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, and itchy, watery eyes are minimized.

Corticosteroid Nasal Spray

Steroid nasal sprays work in a manner similar to other steroids. Specifically, steroid nasal sprays deliver steroid medication locally to the nasal passages, which helps to reduce inflammation in the nasal tissues.

Decreased inflammation leads to decreased symptoms of nasal congestion. In order to be effective, steroid nasal sprays should be used at least once per day on a regular basis.

Are there any side effects associated with allergy nasal spray?

Each of the different types of allergy nasal sprays is known to cause slightly different side effects. Of the different types of allergy nasal sprays, saline nasal spray is known to cause the fewest side effects because it does not contain any medication. However, it is still possible for side effects to occur even though most side effects subside quickly.

Side effects associated with saline nasal sprays include:

  • Eye irritation, if the product gets into the eye
  • Abnormal or salty taste in the mouth
  • Sneezing
  • Nose irritation
  • Cough

Side effects commonly associated with decongestant nasal sprays include:

  • Temporary burning
  • Temporary stinging
  • Dryness of the nasal passages
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing

Side effects associated with antihistamine nasal sprays include:

  • Bitter taste in the mouth
  • Sleepiness
  • Drowsiness
  • Burning in the nose
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Sneezing

Side effects associated with corticosteroid nasal sprays include:

  • Burning, irritation, or drying inside the nose
  • Throat irritation
  • Itchiness in the throat
  • Sneezing


Saline nasal sprays, decongestant nasal sprays, antihistamine nasal sprays, and corticosteroid nasal sprays all work slightly differently to treat allergy symptoms:

  • Saline nasal sprays don’t contain any medication and are primarily used to moisturize the nose and loosen mucus
  • Decongestant nasal sprays reduce inflammation in the nose and should not be used for more than a few days at a time
  • Antihistamine nasal sprays block the effects of histamine to reduce nasal allergy symptoms
  • Corticosteroid nasal sprays reduce inflammation in the nasal passages and are most effective when used on a consistent basis.