How Do I Choose the Best Over the Counter Nasal Spray?

There are various kinds of nasal sprays.
An over the counter nasal spray.
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  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 August 2014
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It is important to choose an over-the-counter nasal spray based on your symptoms as well as their severity. Most sprays are meant to help alleviate symptoms of the common cold, allergies, and flu. You should choose the nasal spray with the least possible medication that will still be effective, especially if you are pregnant or nursing. The main types of nasal spray the are available without a prescription are saline and oxymetazoline hydrochloride.

Saline-based nasal spray is made of mostly water and a salt solution. This is used to help calm the inflamed tissue in the nasal cavity that may lead to a stuffy and runny nose. In most cases, saline-based sprays are safe for pregnant women, although it is still important to talk to a medical professional before using one. If you are still unsure about the safety of an over-the-counter saline spray, you can make your own by mixing sterile water with little salt. Children's varieties are also available.

The most effective type of over-the-counter nasal spray is generally one that is oxymetazoline hydrochloride-based. You should only use oxymetazoline hydrochloride as directed, and do not use it for more than five days to prevent damage to the nasal passages. Generally, patients are advised to use two or three sprays in each nostril once every 12 hours while symptoms persist.


If you only have a mild stuffy nose, you may want to avoid using an oxymetazoline hydrochloride-based sprays. They can be habit-forming, which means continued use may lead to an addiction. This could cause serious damage to the nasal tissue, and may even make your symptoms continue even after cold or allergies have passed. In some severe cases, nose bleeds and a long-term dependency on the product may occur. If you believe you may have a dependency on nasal spray, contact a healthcare professional for treatment options.

There is also an over-the-counter nasal spray that may help prevent symptoms of a cold from starting. Generally, you should use this product when symptoms first begin to appear. Most patients notice a reduced number of symptoms as well as a shorter cold in general. Other nasal sprays may be used in the treatment of allergies.

Pregnant women are advised against using medicated nasal sprays, especially those containing oxymetazoline hydrochloride. This is mainly due to the fact that very little research has been done on the potential effects the medication may have on a developing baby. If you truly feel you need to use a medicated nasal spray during pregnancy for severe discomfort, talk to a medical professional about treatment options. Avoiding certain medications is especially important during the first trimester.


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