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What is Nasal Spray?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Nasal spray can refer to varied types of medication delivered via the nose with a spray. Typically, these are used to help combat nasal congestion, though there are some nasal sprays available by prescription that serve other purposes. One example is the medication Syntocinon®, which contains oxytocin, a chemical that helps in the production of breast milk and may be used to stimulate more milk production in nursing moms, or to help achieve milk letdown faster.

There are many over the counter nasal spray types. Some of the simplest of these, a saline nasal spray, may be used by people who suffer from allergies or colds. Using a little saline water to clear out the nasal passages may help reduce congestion. Most doctors, however, argue that it’s far more effective to do a full saline nasal rinse than it is to use sprays like Ocean®.

Most doctors do conclude that relieving congestion via saline nasal sprays is far more effective than using many of the over the counter spray decongestants like Afrin&reg:. These decongestants may work for a short period of time, but they are addictive, and people may use more than recommended. They also have a rebound effect. Though they may initially help with congestion, use over a longer period of time than three days has been shown to actually increase congestion. Doctors recommend using over the counter nasal spray decongestants sparingly.

Prescription nasal spray types come in many different formulations and are mostly used to treat allergic rhinitis, (sinus congestion due to allergies). Some of these sprays like Flonase®, Nasonex®, and Rhinocort Aqua®, use steroids to help relieve congestion. Like most prescription nasal sprays, these products generally need to be used for several days before they are fully effective, and they also need to be used continuously to remain effective.

Another type of nasal spray available by prescription is an antihistamine based spray called Astelin®. It is similar to the antihistamine diphenhydramine (Benadryl®) and some people do report sleepiness when using this spray. This is an uncommon side effect of steroidal-based sprays, and one of the principal reasons people may prefer using products like Rhinocort instead of oral antihistamines.

A different product available in a nasal spray is NasalCrom®. This spray works only if you use it before you are exposed to the things that cause you allergies. It prevents certain cells from producing symptoms after exposure. It may be best used by people with seasonal allergies who can use the product prior to going outside. It’s probably least effective for those who have indoor allergies, since constant exposure to allergens is likely.

For many, nasal sprays are great alternatives to oral antihistamines, but some say they don’t do enough. For instance, if you get other allergic symptoms like itchy eyes, hives, or asthma, most nasal sprays won’t help much with these additional symptoms. For multiple symptom allergic response, you may be better off with an oral antihistamines, and for colds and flus, oral decongestants may be more effective.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By BrettJacobs — On Jul 15, 2013

I have used afrin, nasonex and almost ten different types of nasal sprays for my sinus allergies and constant sinus infections and the only nasal spray that has ever helped has been sinusoothe. This was the first natural nasal spray I ever tried and will never go back to the drug type. It has not only cleared my existing sinus infection but has stopped me from getting any further infections. Also, my allergies used to bother me daily. Now I don't even notice I have a sinus allergy and I only use this spray two or three times per week these days.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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