When we have a cold and the inevitable blocked nose, the easiest thing to do is reach for the decongestant. Two sprays = instant relief. But, how safe are these nasal sprays?
The average person gets two to four colds a year and as we know, there’s no cure for the common cold. As it’s the most prevalent contagious illness we suffer from, the only thing we can do is stay hydrated, rest and boost our immune system.
And, when breathing becomes a problem, the easiest solution is to use a decongestant in a nasal spray form. Many of us think this is a safe and effective method of temporary relief and we often give it to our children too.
But, are they safe and can we actually use too much of it?
You use the decongestant several times a day as per the instructions and the relief is great — you can sleep properly and go about your day without sniffling and feeling blocked up. After a few days, the stuffiness gets worse - this is called the ‘rebound phenomenon’, which is caused by overusing the decongestant.
Nasal decongestants typically contain chemicals that condense the congested blood vessels in the nose, thereby unclogging the nasal passage and providing almost instant relief. After a few days, the blood vessels stop responding to the medication. Symptoms worsen and no matter how much more you use the, the cold remains and this can go on for months, and even years!
Yes, there are side effects
There are certain ingredients in decongestants that can raise blood pressure and pulse rate, cause dizziness and keep you awake at night. It can also cause dryness, burning and stinging in the nose and cause sneezing.
Nasal sprays can be addictive!
Many people find themselves reaching for the spray repeatedly and this is a sign that you could be over-dependent on the relief it supposedly brings. Chronic sinus sufferers and those with severe allergies are also prone to this. Unfortunately, when you stop using the spray, the withdrawal symptoms can be very unpleasant and include headaches, restlessness, anxiety and problems sleeping.
Steroid based (anti-histamine) nasal sprays must be used under medical supervision and again, it’s recommended not to use these over a long period of time as they can cause complications like nose bleeds.
The fact is that nasal decongestants do not cure the root cause of the problem, and they certainly don’t help with nasal blockage in the long run.
So what can you do?
Ditch the spray, go natural
Always consult your doctor if you think you have a serious congestion problem and find out what the cause is. It could be anything from an infection to an allergy, in which case you have to pinpoint what the trigger is.
As always, a natural solution is preferable. For a cold or hayfever, try saline or salt water sprays, which are incredibly effective. There’s also nasal rinses and the popular Neti pot, which is a small pot used for nasal irrigation and is a Ayurvedic therapy that has been used for millennia. These methods flush out stuffy airways naturally and you won’t suffer the rebound issue.
Only use a nasal spray for quick relief over a short period of time. The best solution to not use decongestants is to improve your immune system (to prevent getting ill), have a healthy diet and lifestyle and always try the natural option first.
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