Nasal moisturizer is a solution designed to lubricate and draw moisture into the nasal passages. Usually a saline-based solution, nasal moisturizer is available in several forms including drops, sprays, and aerosols. Some nasal moisturizers are a straight saline solution, while others include medicinal ingredients and added moisturizers.
Cold weather can cause the nasal membranes to thicken and dry out. This process is exacerbated by the dryness of indoor air when heaters are used, making it uncomfortable or even painful to breathe through the nose. Allergies can also cause the nasal membranes to swell, causing a painful combination of dryness and congestion. Infants and children with colds are unable to blow their noses, resulting in a thick buildup of hardened mucus in the nasal cavity. Nasal moisturizer is an alternative to systemic medication for relief from all of these conditions.
Straight saline solution is the oldest and most benign form of nasal moisturizer, and also the most common. Because it does not contain medication, it is safe to use during pregnancy and breast-feeding, and has a very low occurrence of side effects. Saline solution works by softening any hardened mucus buildup and physically clearing the sinus passages of mucoid obstruction. Plain water doesn’t give the same action because it lacks the necessary salt content, and does not activate the nasal membranes. When the nasal membranes are activated, the nasal cilia activate, and help move the mucus either toward the throat or toward the nostril openings.
Many popular nasal moisturizers contain added moisturizing agents like aloe vera, which soothe irritation and reduce pain. Aloe helps by penetrating the nasal membrane and reducing inflammation, which reduces swelling and pain. Aloe also hastens cell regeneration, giving it limited healing properties as well. Aloe vera is considered a very benign substance, although allergies and side effects do rarely occur. Ingesting a harmful amount of aloe through a nasal moisturizer is highly unlikely, but pregnant women should still check with their doctor before use.
Nasal moisturizers with added antihistamines are available over the counter, and work by shrinking the nasal tissues and temporarily clearing the nasal passages. They are very effective at clearing acute congestion, as from a cold, but should not be used for chronic conditions such as allergies. Antihistamines shrink the tissues only temporarily. When the effect wears off, the user is once again congested, and must use the product again, creating a dependence. When use is discontinued entirely, users experience a rebound effect in which the congestion occurs more severely than before, and must be weaned off of the nasal spray with the help of an ear, nose, and throat specialist.
Prescription nasal sprays are generally just nasal moisturizers with added medicinal agents. Cortisone is a popular additive because it has potent anti-inflammatory properties. Intra-nasal cortisone use causes very few side effects compared to oral use, mostly because the concentration is so low, but also because the the nasal membranes absorb only a fraction of the amount absorbed into the bloodstream from a pill. Since these nasal moisturizers are available by prescription only, the doctor will screen the patient for contraindicated conditions.