Nasal Sprays: How to Use Them Correctly

Nasal sprays are liquid medicines that you spray into your nose. Most often, nasal sprays are nasal decongestants. These decongestants relieve the congestion (stuffiness) in your nose. Congestion is often a symptom of a cold or allergies.

Using nasal sprays the correct way can take some practice.

Path to improved health

Prescription nasal sprays come in two different kinds of containers: pressurized canisters and pump bottles.

Steps for using a pressurized canister:

  1. Gently blow your nose to clear it of mucus before using the medicine.
  2. Make sure the canister fits snugly in its holder. Shake the canister several times just before using it.
  3. Keep your head upright. Breathe out slowly.
  4. Hold your nasal spray canister in one hand. Insert the canister tip in your nose, aiming the tip toward the back of your head. Use your finger to close the nostril on the side not receiving the medicine.
  5. Press down on the canister as you begin to breathe in slowly through your nose. Repeat these steps for the other nostril. If you are using more than one spray in each nostril, follow all these steps again.
  6. Try not to sneeze or blow your nose just after using the spray.

Steps for using a pump bottle:

  1. Gently blow your nose to clear it of mucus before using the medicine.
  2. Remove the cap. Shake the bottle. The first time you use the pump spray each day, you may have to “prime” it. Do this by squirting a few times into the air until a fine mist comes out.
  3. Tilt your head forward slightly. Breathe out slowly.
  4. Hold the pump bottle with your thumb at the bottom and your index and middle fingers on top. Insert the canister tip in your nose, aiming the tip toward the back of your head. Use a finger on your other hand to close your nostril on the side not receiving the medicine.
  5. Squeeze the pump as you begin to breathe in slowly through your nose. Repeat these steps for the other nostril. If you are using more than one spray in each nostril, follow all these steps again.
  6. Try not to sneeze or blow your nose just after using the spray.

Helpful hints:

  • Remember, it may take up to 2 weeks of using a nasal steroid spray before you notice the full effects.
  • Wash the canister device at least once a week.
  • Be sure you can sniff air through each nostril before spraying. Otherwise the medicine will be wasted because it will not go deep into your nose.
  • Aim straight. Point the nozzle of the nasal spray container toward the back of your head. If you don’t spray straight, you will waste the medicine and may cause more irritation in your nose.
  • If the pump spray is used correctly, the spray should not drip from your nose or down the back of your throat.
  • If your nose hurts, if you begin to have nosebleeds,or if the inside of your nose stings, stop using the spray for 1 to 2 days. Sometimes it helps to use a saline nose spray (some brands: SalineX, Ocean Nasal Mist, or NaSal) just before you use your regular medicine.
  • Use your medicines just the way your doctor tells you. Most nasal sprays work best when used regularly and consistently.
  • Keep your medicine away from sunlight.

Things to consider

Overusing nasal spray can damage the inside of your nose. It can also cause what is called the “rebound effect.” With continuous use, your nose stops responding to nasal spray. This may cause you to use more and more nasal spray to get the results you had before. The more you use, though, the worse it gets. This is the rebound effect. It can even lead to chronic sinus infections. Do not use an over-the-counter nasal spray for more than 3 days. If you have questions about how long you should use a nasal spray, call your doctor.

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if you are using nasal spray as directed and still getting no relief. He or she may be able to prescribe you something that will work.

Questions for your doctor

  • Why should I use nasal spray instead of pills or liquid decongestants?
  • Are there any side effects for nasal sprays?
  • How old should you be before using nasal sprays?
  • Are nasal sprays addictive?
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