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Afrin Nasal Spray Works as Short-Term Decongestant

Overuse May Lead to Rebound Congestion

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Updated May 01, 2013

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Afrin Nasal Spray Works as Short-Term Decongestant
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Afrin is sold over-the-counter as a nasal spray and works as a decongestant. Its generic name is oxymetazoline nasal. Applied as a spray into the nostrils, it may provide temporary relief from nasal congestion. What are the uses of Afrin? Explore how it works, some of the common side effects, and why it shouldn't be used on a long-term basis to treat stuffiness and difficulty breathing through the nose.

Uses of Afrin

Afrin is a medication that is used as a decongestant to reduce nasal and sinus stuffiness. This congestion may be present as part of the common cold or in the setting of allergies. It may lead to difficulty breathing through the nose in sleep and contribute to snoring or sleep apnea. Afrin provides temporary relief of these symptoms.

How Does Afrin Work?

It is a solution that's applied as a squirt into the nostril. Once applied, Afrin stimulates receptors in the smooth muscle of the blood vessels of the nose, leading to constriction of these blood vessels that, in turn, reduces nasal congestion. Afrin may lead to rebound congestion, however, if it's overused. In this condition, as the medication wears off, nasal congestion increases. This limits its usefulness to the short-term relief of nasal congestion; it should not be used chronically.

Who Should Not Use Afrin?

Afrin should not be used by children younger than six, or by pregnant women. If you've used a type of antidepressant called an MAO inhibitor within 14 days, do not use Afrin. In addition, caution should be exercised if you have the following conditions:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Heart disease
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Prostate enlargement
  • Glaucoma

In addition, Afrin has the potential to interact with other medications, so you should review all drugs that you are taking with your doctor if you're using, or plan to use, Afrin.

What Are Common Side Effects?

As with any drug, there is the potential for harmful side effects with the use of Afrin. Although you wouldn't be expected to experience most side effects — and likely wouldn't experience any of them — some of the more common ones that can occur with the use of Afrin include:

  • Nose irritation or dryness
  • Sneezing
  • Rebound congestion (the medication causing congestion with long-term use)
  • Dizziness
  • Blood pressure elevation
  • Tachycardia (fast heart rate)
  • Heart palpitations
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep)

What Are Potential Serious Reactions?

There is also the risk of developing serious reactions with the use of Afrin. Though these would be expected to occur less frequently, some of the potential serious side effects of Afrin use include:

  • Heart arrhythmias
  • Chest pain (angina)

Things to Keep in Mind

As above, there are some people who should use Afrin with caution or not at all. Afrin should not be used for the long-term relief of nasal congestion, as the overuse of Afrin beyond a few days may lead to rebound congestion. If you suffer from chronic nasal congestion, you may wish to pursue alternative prescription therapy with the use of a nasal corticosteroid.

If you have any difficulties with the use of Afrin, you should be in close contact with your doctor.

Source:

"Afrin." Epocrates Rx Pro. Version 5.1.2, 2013. Epocrates, Inc. San Mateo, California.

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