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What is Saline Nasal Spray?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Saline nasal spray, sometimes also sold under brand names like Ocean® is a mixture of sodium chloride, water, and sometimes preservatives that can be squirted into the nose to relieve minor congestion or conditions like dryness in the nasal passages. Such spray can also be made with home recipes, and whether homemade or manufactured, the product is relatively benign. Manufactured versions are available widely over the counter.

Since saline nasal spray is not theoretically a medicine, it can be used multiple times a day. This may be of use to those who are weaning off of over the counter nasal spray addiction. People who use products like Ocean® aren’t inclined toward addiction to it, and it doesn’t typically result in the rebound congestion that occurs with nasal sprays like Afrin®.

There are a few things that can prove problematic for the user of saline nasal spray. First, some people develop nosebleeds or irritation from frequent use, and people who use prescription nasal sprays may be asked to not use saline nasal sprays or to wait specific time intervals between prescription and saline spray. A few people eventually develop reactions to the preservatives in commercial brands of spray. Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to obtain preservative-free formulas, or some people make their own. The disadvantage of homemade solution is that loading it into spray bottles may be difficult.

As mentioned, many people use saline nasal spray regularly. They might employ it for the treatment of a variety of conditions. These include minor congestion from allergies or colds, dry sinuses from low humidity conditions, or from autoimmune diseases like Sjogren’s syndrome. Some people use the spray when they have brief colds and want to provide a little natural decongestant. For tough congestion, sprays may not be that effective, though repeated use might bring some relief.

Sometimes people get saline nasal spray and saline nasal rinse confused. When someone rinses the sinuses, they essentially pour or squirt a saline solution into on nostril and then the other. The main difference is volume used. It’s not uncommon to pour or squirt at least 2 ounces (about .06 liters) of solution into each nostril. This volume does irrigate the sinuses washing away built up dust, pollen or mucus, and it may be more effective than a saline nasal spray. Disbursement amounts in a spray are much lower and can’t effectively wash out the nose. Of course, some people use both sprays and rinses, deriving maximum benefit from combining the two treatments.

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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 Kat919 — On May 12, 2012

I'm glad the article explained the difference between saline nasal spray and the actual rinsing, because I think people see the sprays and do not understand the difference.

I've had good results from doing the nasal rinsing during allergy season. The volume involved really cleans things out.

But when I just have a bit of a cold or a touch of congestion that doesn't really need medication, I often just use a saline nose spray. It softens things up so I can blow my nose better! It also has the advantage of being less time-consuming. You don't always want to mess with the whole rinsing apparatus.

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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