Afrin Nasal Spray Works as Short-Term Decongestant

Overuse May Lead to Rebound Congestion

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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 commonly associated with allergies or colds.

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 due to the risk of "addiction" and rebound congestion with overuse.

A patient is using a nasal spray
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Uses

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 It Works

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 is not addictive in the same way that other drugs may be. 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 6 years, or by people who are pregnant. If you've used a type of antidepressant called a monoamine oxidase (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 healthcare provider if you're using, or plan to use, Afrin.

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)

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)

Precautions

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 healthcare provider.

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  1. Vaidyanathan S, Williamson P, Clearie K, Khan F, Lipworth B. Fluticasone reverses oxymetazoline-induced tachyphylaxis of response and rebound congestion. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2010;182(1):19-24. doi:10.1164/rccm.200911-1701OC

  2. MedlinePlus. Oxymetazoline nasal spray. Updated September 15, 2016.

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