Woman with rebound congestion

Imagine dealing with a runny or stuffy nose constantly. Whether it is due to a cold or allergy season, you may be tempted to treat it with nasal spray at your local pharmacy. But what if the very thing that is supposed to treat your congestion is making it worse?

What is congestion?

Before diving into the side effects of nasal decongestants, it’s important to understand the science behind congestion in general. When your nasal passages are irritated due to allergens or you experience an infection, the tissues inside your nose can be inflamed with blood. This reduces the amount of air that can flow from your lungs through your nose, giving you the familiar stuffy nose feeling.

Why can nasal decongestants cause rebound congestion?

A topical nasal decongestant in and of itself is not a bad solution for a stuffy nose. Topical nasal decongestants work by shrinking blood vessels in tissues inside your nasal passages. By reducing the swelling in your nasal passages, you can find temporary relief from congestion brought on by allergies or illness.

That said, nasal decongestants are intended for short-term use. Using the medicine longer than prescribed or as recommended on the packaging can cause a rebound swelling of those tissues, making the tissues larger than before the decongestant use. This phenomenon is known as rhinitis medicamentosa, or more commonly as rebound congestion.

Do all decongestants cause rebound congestion?

Luckily, not every decongestant can create this side effect. Oral decongestants, though not as effective as their nasal counterparts, do not create rebound congestion. Steroid sprays such as Flonase are not topical decongestants, so they are safe to use for extended periods of time without causing addiction or rebound congestion.

What are other methods of treating congestion?

Non-medicinal methods for relieving congestion can include using a warm compress, inhaling steam from the shower or sink, turning on a humidifier, or irrigating your nose with a saline nasal spray such as a Neti pot. Dr. Roy Lewis, a CEENTA ENT and allergy specialist, elaborates on your treatment options. “Most patients will resolve their congestion with daily use of a topical nasal steroid spray such as Flonase. For those who remain symptomatic, allergy treatment or surgery are often great options."

Our board-certified ENT physicians can diagnose the cause of your stuffy nose and recommend thorough treatment methods including immunotherapy for allergies, turbinate reduction, and septoplasty for a deviated septum. Schedule your consultation with a CEENTA ENT specialist today by using our online platform or through myCEENTAchart.

This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your doctor. To make an appointment with a CEENTA ENT specialist, you may schedule an appointment online, through myCEENTAchart, or by calling 704-295-3000.


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