The 5 Best Over-the-Counter Nasal Sprays
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- Best overall nasal spray: Afrin Pump Mist Maximum Strength
- Best nasal spray for kids: Children’s Flonase
- Best nasal spray for sinus infection: Mucinex Sinus-Max Nasal Spray
- Best nasal spray for allergies: Flonase Allergy Relief Spray
- Best saline nasal spray: Arm and Hammer Simply Saline Nasal Care
You spray your medication into your nose. These products are sometimes recommended to treat symptoms of a sinus pressure or inflammation, which can be caused by allergies or a sinus infection.
These sprays can apply active ingredients directly to the site of your discomfort, which can help to provide quick relief for pressure and congestion.
There is a slightly increased risk of side effects for prescription-only sprays. Many of the nasal spray products are available over the counter at any drug store or online.
“It can be difficult to narrow down what might work best for certain conditions, even though certain products are designed to be better. We read through hundreds of customer reviews and product descriptions so you don’t have to.”
OTC nasal sprays can be categorized by their active ingredients (or lack thereof).
- Steroid: OTC steroid nasal sprays are meant to reduce inflammation. That’s why they’re recommended for treating allergies and chronic sinusitis. The steroid sprays may contain budesonide or fluticasone.
- Antihistamine: Antihistamine sprays are meant to blunt the impact of an allergen that your body is reacting to. These products are mostly recommended for allergies. Active antihistamine ingredients in nasal sprays are azelastine or olopatadine.
- Nasal decongestant: These types of sprays aim to shrink irritated blood vessels that line your nose, reducing inflammation to help you breathe more easily. Ingredients may include oxymetazoline hydrochloride or phenylephrine hydrochloride.
- Saline: Saline sprays don’t contain active ingredients, but they can loosen mucus and help you to breathe more easily.
We chose these products based on the criteria.
- Hundreds of verified customer reviews: We read through what people like you had to say about the pros and cons of every product on this list.
- Transparent and honest claims: We disqualified any product that makes medically inaccurate or exaggerated claims about how their product can work in their advertising.
- Clinical trials and peer-reviewed studies: We checked the research on the active ingredients and long-term side effects of the products on this list so you could have peace of mind making your choice.
- $ = under $9
- $$ = $9–$13
- $$$ = over $13
Best overall nasal spray
Afrin Pump Mist Maximum Strength
- Price: $
- Who it works for: The active ingredient in this spray is oxymetazoline, a nasal decongestant. That makes Afrin Pump Mist a good choice if you’re experiencing congestion related to allergies, a sinus infection, or a combination of both. One dose (two to three pumps) of Afrin lasts 12 hours.
- What to know: This product shouldn’t be used for more than 3 consecutive days. It contains polyethylene glycol, which some people may be allergic to. Afrin can be habit forming. If you’re still having symptoms after 3 days, speak with a doctor and switch to another treatment.
Best nasal spray for kids
- Price: $$
- Who it works for: The children’s formulation of Flonase contains glucocorticoid, a medication that relieves congestion caused by allergies. It’s also nondrowsy, so your child can take a dose before they’re off to school or a game. Glucocorticoid is an anti-inflammatory, but not an antihistamine, which may make it more effective at treating congestion. One spray per day in each nostril is enough.
- What to know: This product isn’t approved for kids under 4. Note that continuous use or overuse of Flonase can affect your child’s growth, so it shouldn’t be used as a long-term solution. Be sure to supervise your child when using this product, and make sure they take the recommended dosage. Note that this spray won’t treat congestion that’s caused by a cold or sinus infection.
Best nasal spray for sinus infection
Mucinex Sinus-Max Nasal Spray
- Price: $$
- Who it works for: Oxymetazoline chloride is the active ingredient in this spray, which is meant to treat mild to moderate sinus congestion. As a bonus, this spray contains cooling menthol, which can help soothe inflamed nasal passages and give you a burst of clean, cool sensation. Reviewers say this formula works immediately.
- What to know: This spray should only be used once every 12 hours, and it’s not a long-term treatment for ongoing sinus and allergy issues, as it can be habit forming. If your symptoms haven’t subsided after 3 days, speak with a doctor and switch to another treatment.
Best nasal spray for allergies
Flonase Allergy Relief Spray
- Price: $$$
- Who it works for: Flonase is a nondrowsy formula that contains fluticasone, which is meant to treat hay fever symptoms. Fluticasone is a corticosteroid treatment that can reduce inflammation in your sinuses without the sleepy side effects of an antihistamine. Unlike other nasal sprays, Flonase is non-habit forming, so you can use it year-round. In addition to sinus congestion, it addresses watery eyes and itching.
- What to know: You only need two sprays in each nostril daily to get the full impact of Flonase. Some known side effects include nosebleeds and a sore throat. These side effects become more likely with overuse.
Best saline nasal spray
Arm and Hammer Simply Saline Nasal Care
- Price: $$
- Who it works for: This saline nasal spray adds moisture to clogged nasal passages. It loosens mucus with the help of baking soda, instead of constricting nasal passages. Some reviewers who live in dry climates use it to irrigate their nose.
- What to know: Unlike other nasal sprays, it’s safe to mix this saline spray with other types of cold and allergy medication. If you need relief from severe cold, flu, or allergy symptoms, try one of the stronger sprays on this list. Note that this spray is more of a fine mist and can take some getting used to.
The best product for you depends on what you need. The underlying cause of your symptoms should be treated. If you need a spray for seasonal allergies, look for one that has a steroid. If you are treating a cold, look for one with a decongestant.
Before trying a product with a higher amount of active ingredients, start with a product with a lower amount.
How to use
The way most sprays are used is the same.
- “Blow your nose to get rid of odors. This will make sure you don’t just blow mucus back into your nose.”
- Make sure the spray cap is off before you open it. You may need to shake the bottle or release the spray from the pump to get it ready to use.
- The end of the spray should be under your nose. Close your mouth and breathe. It is your goal to get the spray into your nose, not your throat.
Before you use a nasal spray, make sure to read the packaging. Dosage may be different depending on what you are using. Most sprays are only supposed to be used once or twice a day for a maximum of three days.
If you use too much spray you can get nosebleeds.
Nasal sprays aren’t typically intended as a long-term solution for allergies and frequent sinus congestion. Some people report that nasal sprays can be habit-forming, and side effects such as rebound inflammation and nosebleeds can occur if you overuse these products. Alternatives to consider include:
- Run a cool-mist humidifier or essential oil diffuser in your home to keep sinus congestion to a minimum.
- If environmental allergies are a problem indoors, consider a HEPA-filter air purification device.
- Apply a warm compress to your forehead and nasal passages to soothe painful congestion.
- If you want to avoid the dangers of nasal sprays, keep allergy medications in mind.
- If you have mucus in your nose, take a warm shower or breathe in steam.
- Drink an herbal tea with peppermint.
Hay fever and other infections can be managed with a spray of a nose. Sometimes you need to see a doctor about your symptoms.
Talk with a doctor about your congestion if you have one or more of the following symptoms:
- It lasts for 2 weeks or more.
- A high temperature that lasts for over 72 hours.
- nasal discharge that appears green and comes with a recurring fever or headache
How do OTC nasal sprays compare with prescriptions?
Many OTC options have the same active ingredients as their prescription-strength counterparts. The spray has a different dosage that is included. The sprays are more likely to contain ingredients that are used in medicine.
How do nasal allergy sprays compare with oral allergy medication?
Nasal allergy sprays tend to take several days to start working, while oral allergy medications can start working within a few hours. However, in the long run, nasal sprays may be more effective than taking oral medication. Generally, however, they both have the same effects.
Are nasal allergy sprays safe to use?
Nasal allergy sprays are safe to use occasionally for the treatment of a runny nose or nasal congestion. Nasal decongestant sprays can cause what’s called rebound congestion if used for 3 consecutive days. Before using any type of nasal spray, read package instructions carefully.
Learning about the active ingredients in the spray is a must when shopping for the right spray. It is easier to narrow down which symptoms you need to treat and which spray is best when you know the basics.
“Some sprays are not appropriate for long-term use. If you don’t get symptom relief from your sprays, talk to your doctor about a longer-term plan.”