Peter Hibberd, M.D., is a doctor whose advice is based on more than 28 years of hospital outpatient and inpatient experience. He is an experienced emergency medicine physician, surgeon, and consultant. Dr. Hibberd is certified by the American Board of Emergency Medicine. He is also a fellow and active member of the American Academy of Family Physicians, an active member of the American College of Emergency Physicians, and a member and fellow of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine. Dr. Hibberd has earned numerous national and international professional certifications, memberships, and awards.

Using Nasal Decongestant Sprays

Thursday, 22 October 2009 12:37 PM

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!"

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