Question: I use a nasal decongestant spray (one short spray of oxymetazoline hydrochloride 0.05%) sometimes when nasal stuffiness keeps me from breathing properly at night. It helps tremendously, but the directions say not to use for more than three days. Is it okay to continue to use the oxymetazoline spray on an ongoing basis, or will it cause worse problems later?
Dr. Hibberd's Answer:
Continuing with oxymetazoline nasal spray (Afrin, Dristan, Vick’s) will doom you to a condition called rhinitis medicamentosa, which is profound nasal congestion caused by overuse or continued use of over-the-counter nasal decongestants.
The most comfortable way to withdraw the spray is by consulting your physician and obtaining short-term topical steroid nasal spray. Serious cases may require oral or injectible cortisone, and occasionally you may need antibiotics. Rarely, simple drainage procedures are used to treat obstructive sinusitis that so often follows prolonged misuse of these sprays. Just because you obtain medicines without a prescription does not mean there will be no side effects. Topical nasal spays should be used for less than three or four days or you risk the jaws of "rhinitis medicamentosa!"