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Nasal Spray Side Effects: What To Look Out For

What To Keep In Mind When Using Nasal Spray

Dr. Nelli Gluzman Profile Photo

Written by Dr. Nelli Gluzman on September 23, 2021

Medically reviewed by Camille Freking, MS Pharmacology

When symptoms of seasonal allergies or a cold begin to strike, you might turn to a nasal spray for relief from symptoms affecting your nasal passages. Congestion, sneezing, and a runny nose can all be very uncomfortable and inconvenient symptoms, and if they begin to interfere with your sleep or your quality of life, it is important for you to speak with your doctor in order to find the best method of finding relief.

There are several different types of nasal sprays with different active ingredients, and because the active ingredients can vary, not all nasal sprays have the same potential side effects.

Side effects associated with nasal sprays are generally mild and do not require immediate medical attention, but if you start to experience side effects that are particularly uncomfortable or seem severe, it may be necessary to seek medical attention.

Learning about the most common side effects associated with nasal sprays can help you understand what should and should not be expected when you use a nasal spray.

It is important to identify whether side effects are mild or severe, and whether you need to seek immediate medical attention or not. If you ever suspect that you may be experiencing an allergic reaction to your medicine, it is important to call your doctor right away and describe your symptoms to them.

They will be able to help you determine whether or not you are experiencing a reaction, and what to do. In the event that you are having an allergic reaction, your doctor may tell you to call 911, or they may be able to guide you through the proper steps to take.

Understanding the Different Types of Nasal Sprays and Their Side Effects

There are several different types of commercially available nasal sprays, and understanding these different options can help you know what to expect when you begin using one of them.

The most common types of nasal sprays are as follows:

  • Nasal steroid sprays: Nasal steroid sprays are most often used to help relieve congestion, because the steroids can work to decrease inflammation in your nasal passages. Many steroid sprays are available over the counter, and you may need to use a steroid spray consistently for several weeks before it begins to offer improvements for your symptoms. Steroid medications can have a variety of potential side effects such as cataracts, but your risk of severe side effects is much lower when you are only using steroids in the form of a nasal spray as opposed to oral steroids.
  • Nasal antihistamine sprays: Nasal antihistamine sprays work to relieve symptoms in a similar manner to oral antihistamines. Antihistamines work to block the release of a chemical known as histamine in your body, and histamine is the chemical that is ultimately responsible for the unpleasant symptoms commonly associated with allergies. Nasal antihistamine sprays are effective for relieving nasal symptoms, such as a runny nose and congestion. One common side effect associated with nasal antihistamine sprays is a bitter taste in the mouth caused by the ingredients in your nasal spray traveling through the nose and into the back of your throat.
  • Nasal anticholinergic sprays: Anticholinergic nasal sprays can be effective for the treatment of a runny nose in people struggling with allergic or nonallergic rhinitis, and this type of nasal spray can work by blocking the effects of acetylcholine. Blocking acetylcholine can then help decrease secretions from the glands in your nose, which can help relieve a runny nose. The most common side effects associated with nasal anticholinergic sprays include a dry mouth or a bad taste in your mouth.
  • Nasal cromolyn sodium spray: This type of nasal spray can be used to combat symptoms like congestion, sneezing, or a runny nose in patients who are dealing with allergies, and it works by inhibiting mast cells. Common side effects of this type of nasal spray include a burning sensation in the nose or a bad taste in your mouth.
  • Nasal decongestant sprays: Nasal decongestant sprays contain decongestant drugs that can work to relieve congestion by constricting the swollen blood vessels in your nose. Nasal decongestant sprays are only recommended for short-term use to relieve symptoms of colds or allergies, and you should avoid using them for more than three days. Using nasal decongestant sprays for longer than is recommended could cause you to experience rebound congestion as a side effect.
  • Nasal saline sprays: Nasal saline sprays contain saltwater solutions as the active ingredient, and this type of nasal spray can help thin and loosen mucus in the nose in order to relieve symptoms. Nasal saline sprays can also help flush allergens and irritants out of your nasal passages. A common side of nasal saline sprays is a slight burning sensation in the nose.

Rebound Congestion: Why Does It Happen?

Rebound congestion is the most common side effect associated with nasal decongestant sprays, and it occurs when you use a decongestant spray for longer periods of time than are recommended.

When you use any decongestant product for too long, it can cause your body to become reliant on the medicine in order to function properly. This means that when you are not using your medicine, your body cannot clear congestion on its own anymore, and the only time you will be congestion-free is when you are using your medicine.

As you continue using a decongestant medication, your nose can become less responsive to it, thus causing you to need to use more of it in order to experience relief.

In order to prevent rebound congestion from happening, you should take care to closely follow the instructions for your nasal spray, and avoid using it for longer than you are supposed to. If you do experience rebound congestion, you should consult your doctor for guidance regarding how to find relief.

Managing Side Effects

Many nasal sprays are only associated with mild side effects like a burning sensation in the nose or a bad taste in the mouth. If you experience these side effects, you should consult your doctor, but these side effects generally are not severe enough to interfere with your quality of life.

If you do experience a burning sensation that is particularly bothersome, your doctor may recommend that you stop using your nasal spray for a couple of days, or they may suggest a different spray for you.

It is most important for you to stay on the lookout for symptoms of an allergic reaction, and if you have ever had an allergic reaction to nasal spray active or inactive ingredients in the past, it is important for you to inform your doctor of this ahead of time.

Your doctor will be able to help you find products that are free of your allergens.

You should stay on the lookout for any of the following symptoms, which can indicate a severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis:

  • Rash
  • Itching
  • Hoarseness of the voice
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the hands, face, mouth, or tongue

These can be symptoms of a life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis, which typically requires immediate medical attention. If you experience any symptoms that you believe may be signs of an allergic reaction, you should seek immediate medical attention.

The Bottom Line

There are several different types of nasal sprays that can come in handy when you are experiencing symptoms of allergies or the common cold, like congestion, sneezing, or a runny nose. Some sprays are more effective against a runny nose, while others are better for congestion.

Different sprays can cause different side effects, but the most common side effect across several different sprays is a burning sensation in the nose. Some sprays may also cause a bad or bitter taste in your mouth, but side effects in general tend to be very mild.

Nasal sprays containing decongestant drugs as the active ingredient can lead to rebound congestion, which happens when your nose becomes less responsive to your medicine and your body begins to rely on it to stay decongested.

If you experience side effects that are particularly severe or concerning, you should speak with your doctor about switching your medicine. Additionally, if you have any symptoms that you suspect may be a sign of an allergic reaction, call your doctor immediately for advice regarding next steps.