Help! I can’t stop using Afrin® nasal spray!
- Posted on: Jul 12 2023
If you struggle with nasal congestion or seasonal allergies you may have come across over-the-counter decongestant nasal sprays like Afrin® or heard warnings about using these sprays too often. When you feel all stuffed up, decongestant sprays can feel like a miracle cure. Shortly after using Afrin, the blood vessels that lead to congestion constrict and swelling reduces. Unfortunately, this relief is only temporary, and when the effects of the decongestant wear off congestion often returns at a level that is worse than before, leading to a cycle of dependency on these sprays.
What is Afrin®?
Afrin® is a brand of decongestant nasal spray containing the drug oxymetazoline. There are many different brands and variations of decongestant nasal sprays available over the counter. Other common active ingredients to look out for include phenylephrine and xylometazoline. It is important to read the label and avoid any of these ingredients when shopping for nasal sprays.
Decongestant nasal sprays work by vasoconstriction, or decreasing blood supply to the turbinates (the filtering structures inside the nose that swell in response to allergy or infection). When the blood supply to the turbinates reduces, they shrink up and allow for more airflow through the nose, relieving congestion or pressure.
Is Afrin® addictive?
While Afrin use won’t cause cravings or physical withdrawal as seen with other addictive substances like stimulants or opiates, it can result in a cycle of dependency. Once the spray wears off, the turbinates and the nasal lining respond by swelling even more than before. The medical term for this pattern is called “rhinitis medicamentosa” or rebound congestion. Because congestion can be severe when stopping sprays like Afrin, this makes them extremely addictive and difficult to stop. If you use a decongestant nasal spray like Afrin long-term (specifically for 3 or more days), the risk of developing a dependency to the spray increases significantly. Long-term use of Afrin deprives the nose of blood supply containing oxygen and nutrients, which can lead to holes in the septum or infection.
Can Afrin® dependency be treated?
Yes, the best way to stop your dependence on Afrin® is by abruptly stopping the use of the nasal spray. It is recommended that you throw away all bottles of Afrin® so you will not be tempted to use it. Oral steroids or steroid nasal sprays are often prescribed to reduce swelling and ease the cessation process.
Usually, there is a reason that someone starts using Afrin® in the first place, like allergies, structural issues or sinus infection. It is important to be evaluated by one of our providers to determine the cause of your nasal congestion and prevent you from turning to a decongestant spray again in the future.
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Posted in: Sinus and Nasal