Here's What You Need to Know About Allergy Nasal Sprays


Allergy Treatments

Here's What You Need to Know About Allergy Nasal Sprays

A person's hand holding up Picnic's nasal spray in front of flowers.

Your allergy symptoms are flaring up. We’re talking a runny nose, watery eyes, and the whole nine yards.

You’ve dealt with this enough times, and you grab your go-to allergy pill to help you make it through your allergy season. But, if you aren’t also reaching for a nasal spray, it might be time to reconsider.

An allergy nasal spray can provide some much-needed relief for your swollen and runny nose, but the thought of squirting liquid up your nostrils can also be a little nerve-wracking. We get it, and we’re here to break down everything you need to know about this medication.

But first...

What do “nasal allergy symptoms” feel like?

Seasonal allergies (also called hay fever or allergic rhinitis, if you’re feeling fancy) cause a lot of not-so-fun symptoms—many of which happen in your nose.

When you experience a flare-up of your seasonal or perennial (year-round) allergies, you’ll likely notice a runny nose with clear discharge, nasal congestion, and plenty of sneezing. Your nose might itch incessantly too.

Now let’s figure out where these irritating symptoms come from.

What causes a runny nose…that’s somehow also congested?

Those nasal symptoms are just a subset of your broader allergy symptoms that happen when your allergies flare up. What causes these flare-ups to happen at all? To put it simply, it’s your immune system reacting to a foreign substance.

When your body detects an allergy trigger (keep in mind that everybody has different ones), it overreacts and produces histamine. Histamine is an inflammatory chemical that causes all of that itching, dripping, and stuffiness that you’ve become all too familiar with.

Of course, nasal symptoms are common with other things too—from a sinus infection to the common cold. So, how can you know if it’s actually allergies?

Timing will be your biggest clue. Do you deal with these same problems around the same time every year? Do they seem to be worse after you’ve been outdoors? Then you’re likely dealing with allergies.

How do you treat nasal allergies?

In the case of seasonal or perennial allergies, an antihistamine is a great defense—especially if you take it before your allergy season starts or before you’re exposed to your allergy trigger.

This medication prevents histamine from binding to its receptors in your body, which means it can greatly reduce all of your allergy symptoms (not just the nasal ones).

Using an allergy nasal spray in combination with your oral antihistamine can help you keep your nasal symptoms at bay. There are a bunch of different kinds of nasal sprays, but they generally fall into the following buckets:

You can also get a spray that’s a combination of a nasal steroid and an antihistamine, though it’s good to note it’s only available with a prescription.

We know what question is still looming in your brain: Does nasal spray really work? Yep.

Studies show that nasal sprays are very effective at treating your nasal symptoms because they deliver the medication directly to the scene of the crime.

So, rest assured that you have plenty of options—meaning you don’t need to continue to grit your teeth and suffer through your symptoms.

How do you decide between the different types of nasal sprays?

The answer to this one is going to depend on where you are in your journey toward allergy relief. Is this your first time trying medication for your allergies? If so, you may want to skip the over-the-counter decongestants and head straight for a prescription antihistamine nasal spray, which are fast-acting and tend to work for most people.

If you’ve already tried antihistamines and realized they aren’t enough on their own for you, you might want to opt for a steroid nasal spray like fluticasone (or a combination spray) instead. These sprays can handle even the most stubborn symptoms.

What does a nasal spray actually feel like?

There’s no denying that nasal sprays are effective. But, we’ll be the first to admit that it doesn’t change the fact that the idea of spraying something up your own nose for the first time is a little...uhh...nerve-wracking.

The good news is that it’s not nearly as awful as you think it is. In fact, you likely won’t feel much at all. After you inhale the medicine into your nostril, you might experience a bitter taste running down the back of your throat. That’s really about as uncomfortable as it gets—we promise.

With that pep talk out of the way, let’s get into how to use these nasal sprays to get some well-deserved relief.

How do you use a nasal spray correctly?

For your nasal spray to be as effective as possible, you need to use it right. And, it’s actually pretty simple.

While you should make sure that you read the directions included with your specific nasal spray and follow those closely, this is the general process.

  • Gently blow your nose before applying to clear out your nasal passages and prep them for the medication
  • Remove the cap and prime the bottle (if directed) by shaking it and spraying a few pumps into the air until a fine mist comes out
  • Press one nostril closed with your finger and place the tip of the nasal spray bottle in the other nostril
  • Aim the tip toward the back of your nose
  • Gently press or squeeze the bottle and inhale lightly with your mouth closed

Repeat that in the other nostril, dispersing as many sprays as directed. Then, replace the cap, wash your hands, and avoid blowing your nose for a bit (about 10 minutes should be enough time for your body to actually absorb the medication).

That’s it. See? We told you it wasn’t bad.

How often should you use nasal spray?

This will depend on what specific nasal spray you’re using, as well as what the package instructions say.

Generally, antihistamine and steroid nasal sprays are safe for daily use. Decongestant nasal sprays shouldn’t be used for more than three consecutive days, or you run the risk of making your congestion even worse.

How long does nasal spray take to start working?

You want relief, and you want it now. So, how long until that nasal spray works its magic?

Well, again, it depends. Steroid nasal sprays and antihistamine nasal sprays can take a few days to even a couple of weeks to reach peak effectiveness, while decongestant nasal sprays work within minutes.

Do nasal sprays have side effects?

First things first, take comfort in the fact that side effects from nasal sprays are generally mild and aren’t common. You might experience a bitter taste in your mouth, a sore throat, cough, or tenderness around your cheekbones. Of course, if you’re concerned about any side effects, speak with a medical professional.

If you’ve heard horror stories about bloody noses, we want to reassure you that it isn’t common, but it can happen if your nose becomes particularly irritated or you put the tip of the nasal spray too far into your nostril. Using the nasal spray correctly (meaning, aimed at the back of your nose rather than your septum) will help you avoid a bloody nose.

Another potential side effect you might be concerned about is anxiety. While some studies suggest that nasal sprays, especially ones that contain steroids, can cause anxiety, further research has found that it’s likely not the spray itself that’s the problem—it’s the dosage. In fact, one nasal spray has been approved by the FDA for depression, while another steroid spray has shown promising results for treating social anxiety.

That means that as long as you’re using your nasal spray as directed, and don’t stop without talking to your doctor, you’re unlikely to suddenly start feeling anxious. If you do, be sure to talk to a healthcare professional about your symptoms.

Take action against your sniffling and sneezing

You’ve come to expect the same itchy, stuffy, and runny nose around the same time every year. Take it from us: You don’t need to resign yourself to that misery time and time again.

An allergy nasal spray is a simple way for you to tackle your symptoms head on.

Yes, it can feel a little strange at first (you’re spraying something up your nose, after all). But, after doing it just a couple of times, you’ll get used to it and wonder why you ever thought it was such a big deal.

Not sure which nasal spray is right for you? Picnic can help point you toward a personal, allergist-picked Pack. Simply tell us about the symptoms and seasons that bother you most, along with a little about your experience, and we'll get you the personalized Allergy Pack and ongoing care you need to achieve peak relief.

Article Reviewed By

Amina H. Abdeldaim, MD MPH, Picnic Medical Director

Picnic Medication

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