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I was prescribed a nasal spray for allergies. Can these be addictive?


Updated February 02, 2009

Question: I was prescribed a nasal spray for allergies. Can these be addictive?
Answer: It is true that the chronic use of some nasal sprays, mainly over-the-counter decongestant nasal sprays, can result in a form of physical dependency. These sprays include Afrin (oxymetazoline), Neo-Synephrine (phenylephrine), and just about any other over-the-counter nasal spray advertised as a decongestant. Nasal decongestants can be very effective for treating nasal congestion, and are wonderful for treating the short-term effects of the common cold, for example, but they should not be used for longer than 3 days.

While these medications are not “addicting” (as you might expect a person to become addicted to a narcotic medication), using them chronically will make you dependent on them to treat your nasal congestion. That is, the more you use them, the more your nasal congestion will worsen after the medication wears off. When that happens, you'll need to use more of the spray more frequently to get relief until the spray is needed every few hours in order for it to have an effect.

This dependence on nasal decongestants is called “rhinitis medicamentosa.” If you develop it, you may require additional medication to be able to “wean off” of the nasal spray. A doctor may prescribe nasal steroid sprays or even a short course of oral corticosteroids in order to break the cycle of nasal congestion caused by the nasal decongestant.

Prescription nasal sprays, such as nasal steroids, nasal antihistamines and nasal anticholinergics, do not cause dependency or rhinitis medicamentosa, even with chronic, long-term use. Therefore, it is safe to use your prescription nasal sprays without fear of becoming “addicted” to them.


Diagnosis and Management of Rhinitis: Joint Task Force on Practice Parameters in Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 1998;81:463-518.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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