Afrin Nasal Spray: What to Know

Afrin is an over-the-counter nasal decongestant spray

Afrin is sold over-the-counter (OTC) decongestant in the form of a nasal spray. Its generic name is oxymetazoline nasal. Afrin is sprayed in the nostrils to give temporary relief from nasal congestion caused by allergies or colds.

This article will go over how Afrin works, some of the common side effects of Afrin, and why using too much Afrin or using it for a long time can lead to rebound congestion.

A patient is using a nasal spray
Karl Tapales / Moment / Getty Images

What Is Afrin Used For?

Afrin is a decongestant medication used to reduce nasal and sinus stuffiness. It's commonly used to treat congestion from the common cold or allergies.

Being congested can also cause difficulty breathing through your nose while you're sleeping and may contribute to snoring or sleep apnea. Afrin can help with these symptoms.

How Afrin Works

Afrin comes in a squirt bottle that you can spray into your nostrils. It stimulates receptors in the smooth muscle of the blood vessels in the nose and makes them narrow (constrict). When the blood vessels constrict, it reduces nasal congestion.

You cannot get addicted to Afrin the way you can get addicted to other drugs, but it can stop working if you use it too often, use too much, or use it for a long time.

Rebound congestion from Afrin causes you to have more nasal congestion once the medication wears off.

What to Do If You Overdose on Afrin

If you think you have used too much Afrin, call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222. If someone has overdosed on Afrin and is not breathing, call 911.

Who Should Not Use Afrin

Some people should not use Afrin, including

  • Children younger than 6 years old
  • People who are pregnant
  • People who have taken an antidepressant called a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MOAI) within the last 14 days

If you have these health conditions, talk to your provider before you use Afrin:

Afrin can also interact with OTC and prescription medications and supplements. You should tell your provider about all the medications you take and ask if it's safe to take Afrin with them.

Afrin Side Effects

Afrin can cause side effects. Most of them are not serious and will go away as soon as you stop using the medication.

Common side effects of Afrin include:

Serious Reactions to Afrin

It's less common, but there are also some potentially serious side effects of Afrin that require medical attention, including:

If Afrin Does Not Work

Afrin is safe and effective when it's used properly. If your symptoms are not improving after you've used Afrin according to the directions, you'll need to talk to your provider about other treatments.

For example, if you have chronic nasal congestion, prescription therapy with the use of a nasal corticosteroid can be helpful.


Afrin is a common decongestant medication used to treat cold and allergy symptoms. It is sold over-the-counter (OTC). While Afrin can be a safe and effective treatment for nasal congestion when it is used according to the directions, overusing Afrin can lead to rebound congestion.

If you have been using Afrin for three days and it hasn't helped your symptoms, stop using it and let your provider know. You might need a different treatment, like nasal steroids, for your congestion.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why should Afrin only be used for 3 days?

    Afrin is meant to provide short-term relief. If you use Afrin too often, you use too much, or you use it for longer than a few days, it can cause your congestion to get worse (rebound congestion).

  • Do Flonase and Afrin do the same thing?

    Afrin and Flonase are different medications. Afrin is a decongestant and Flonase is a steroid. Afrin is designed to clear up congestion while Flonase is meant to treat other allergy symptoms as well.

  • What should you avoid when taking Afrin?

    If you have certain medical conditions or take other medications, you may need to avoid using Afrin. For example, it's important that you do not use Afrin if you've taken an antidepressant called an MOAI within the last 14 days.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  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. National Library of Medicine. Oxymetazoline Nasal Spray.

  3. Afrin. FAQs.

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

  5. Flonase. Flonase vs. Afrin Nasal Decongestant.

By Brandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.