Dangers of Nasal Decongestants

Is there any danger in using nasal decongestant sprays?

While there may be the tendency to immediately associate nose surgery with a desire to look different, for many people the underlying motivation is to simply be able to breathe, or, more specifically, to be able to breathe more easily. Most of us take for granted what it’s like to be able to take a deep breath through our noses, without giving it a second thought. For those with some sort of obstruction, whether congenital or from an incident that caused damage to the nose, that is a luxury that they do not have.

A rhinoplasty procedure, or a nose job, is not normally the first option that springs to mind when someone has a stuffy nose. The cause may be a structural issue creating sinus blockages or it may be a cold or rhinitis, which is where the mucous membrane inside the nose becomes irritated and inflamed. The symptoms of rhinitis are caused by viruses, bacteria and environmental irritants like pollen and dander.

For the sufferer with the stuffy nose, however, the cause is not as important in the moment as the desire to do something about it. Right now. This is where the lure of instant relief can start someone on a long and difficult path. When someone is congested and wants to open their nasal passages and breathe freely, there is a magic solution as accessible as the pharmacy on the corner, without even the need for a prescription. Over-the-counter decongestants can bring near instant relief by shrinking the blood vessels in the lining of the nose and reducing swollen tissue.

That sounds pretty good, right? And, it can be, if the instructions warning against prolonged use are heeded. OTC decongestants work well for the acute symptoms of a cold during those first days that are the most uncomfortable. However, continuing to use beyond the recommended three or four days can lead to a dependency on nose sprays. After a few days, the blood vessels don’t respond as much, which leads to the need to use more often. Pretty soon, the only way you can breathe is to use the spray all the time. Some people use them for weeks, months and even years. Trying to stop can result in rebound congestion, known as Rhinitis medicamentosa (RM), or chemical rhinitis, that is extremely uncomfortable.

Abuse of nasal decongestants can lead to permanent damage, including holes in the nasal septum, the structure separating the nostrils. Despite the warnings and the serious risks, this form of addiction is wide-spread. According to Dr. Neil Bhattacharyya, associate professor of otology and laryngology at Harvard and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, “It’s pretty common. I’d say that one out of every seven patients with sinus and nasal obstruction have abused nasal sprays. They say it’s the only way they can sleep at night.”

Obviously, the best way to avoid rebound decongestion and the dangers associated with overuse of nasal decongestant sprays is to pay attention to the warning labels, or never use them in the first place.

Posted in: Rhinoplasty

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