Using Flonase or Nasacort AQ for Cold Symptoms

Man using nasal spray

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Nasal sprays for allergies such as Nasacort AQ (triamcinolone) and Flonase (fluticasone) are very popular over the counter medications used to treat itchy and runny noses. They are frequently recommended by health care providers for allergy symptoms and many people take them for cold symptoms as well. So will these nasal sprays actually help if you have a cold and not allergies?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Although these nasal sprays (which are classified as corticosteroids) are popular medications, the science and research show that they just aren't effective for cold symptoms. The runny nose you experience when you have a cold occurs for different reasons than when you have allergies. 

How Nasal Spray Corticosteroids Work

Nasal spray allergy medications such as Flonase and Nasacort AQ are corticosteroids. They don't work in exactly the same way but they do block the inflammatory agents that your body produces as a response to an allergen.

Histamine and other substances that produce similar symptoms are what cause itching, watery eyes, runny nose, and sneezing. These medications block these substances, effectively preventing the symptoms from occurring. 

What Happens When You Get a Cold

When you have a runny nose caused by a cold, it isn't due to a histamine response. Instead, excess mucus builds up in your sinuses and head due to swelling and your body's attempt to eliminate the invading germs. So taking antihistamines really does nothing to stop this or help with these symptoms. 

Taking oral antihistamines for cold symptoms doesn't help for the same reasons. Although they are often included in multi-symptom cold medications, they don't treat runny noses or watery eyes caused by colds, the flu or other viral illnesses.

Several medical studies have investigated the use of corticosteroids to treat cold symptoms. Research results do not support the use of these medications for symptomatic relief, but study authors suggest that more research is needed.

What You Can Do

If you start to feel symptoms such as a runny nose or stuffy head, try to determine whether your symptoms are caused by a cold or allergies. 

If you have a cold:

Try other over-the-counter medications to treat the symptoms you have. You can also use a humidifier, try rinsing your sinuses or another remedy to treat your cold at home. 

Studies have found that physical interventions such as handwashing are likely beneficial when you have a cold. Additionally, zinc supplements may be helpful. However, other treatments including ginseng, echinacea and vitamin C supplementation are not likely to provide a benefit.

If you have allergies:

Antihistamines or corticosteroid nasal sprays typically work very well for allergies. If you have been using over the counter products but you are still having symptoms, contact your healthcare provider or allergist for further treatment options.  

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Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hayward G, Thompson MJ, Perera R, Del mar CB, Glasziou PP, Heneghan CJ. Corticosteroids for the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;(10):CD008116. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD008116.pub3

  2. Allan GM, Arroll B. Prevention and treatment of the common cold: making sense of the evidenceCMAJ. 2014;186(3):190–199. doi:10.1503/cmaj.121442

Additional Reading

  • Triamcinolone Nasal Spray. MedlinePlus 26 Jan 15. American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. US National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. US Department of Health and Human Services. 

  • Fluticasone Nasal Spray. MedlinePlus 26 Jan 15. American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. US National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. US Department of Health and Human Services.