Up Your Nose

I feel compelled to write this brief Insight because of its relevance to so many people, especially this time of year. Nasal sprays are used at least sporadically by most of our adult population. Whether we are trying to open a congested nose to sleep at night when in the throws of a full blown cold, or unfortunate to have chronic rhinitis (nasal inflammation) of some sort, most of us have snorted a chemical clinically packaged by a pharmaceutical company. Believe it or not. . .there’s a Right Way and a Wrong Way to do this. And, I just “nose” you want to learn the correct method!

The major drawback to nasal sprays is irritation of the nasal septum. . .or the midline supportive structure of the nose. The fragile blood vessels and mucous membranes coating the nasal septum are particularly sensitive to the chemicals in nasal sprays. And the lower humidity of winter indoor environments generated by the dried, warmed air of heating systems further irritates the fragile nasal lining. Nose bleeds are particularly common in the winter months because of the latter phenomenon. . .and the irritation of nasal sprays only aggravates this problem. For a blow by blow solution, read on. . .

So, what’s a stuffy headed victim to do? When using nasal sprays, use your right hand to spray the left nostril, and your left hand to spray the right nostril. In doing so, you angle the spray AWAY from the delicate nasal septum, and give it an anatomically appropriate opportunity to coat the lining of your nose and head up into the sinus cavities as well. Employ this technique regularly when you use nasal sprays. . .and you’ll substantially decrease your risk of septum irritation and related nosebleeds. Of course, it’s important to remember that none of you should use over the counter nasal sprays (such as Dristan or Afrin) more than 3–5 days at a time. Regular use of these over the counter sprays will “addict” the nasal lining; your nose develops a dependence on the nasal spray to keep air passages open. In fact, you actually perpetuate chronic nasal stuffiness if you use these sprays with regularity. As in other matters related to nasal hygiene, if you have a choice, pick a winner.

Prescription sprays, on the other hand, are composed of different ingredients that work by depositing anti-inflammatory chemicals on the nasal lining and into sinus cavities. Their regular use will provide a stabilizing effect in appropriate patients rather than generating the unfortunate consequences of over the counter sprays.

Both types of nasal spray can be chemical irritants, so remember which hand to use for each nostril! And remember, too, that drinking extra water is the best way to moisturize ALL your body’s tissueswhen our electric and gas heating systems dry out our winter living environments. And whenever you stick a nasal spray up your nose. . .do it right. No reason to create a booger of a problem when you have a better choice. Now that you’re armed with this information, it’s no longer true that only your doctor “nose” best!

Stephen L. Hines, M.D.
January 2002