Saline Nasal Spray Uses and Safety

A natural remedy for kids and adults with dry nose, allergies, or congestion

A saline nasal spray is a sterile saltwater solution used to irrigate the nose and sinus passages. It is a non-drug option for treating nasal dryness or congestion caused by colds, allergies, and other upper respiratory conditions.

The benefit of a saline nasal spray is that it can lubricate, moisture, and flush nasal passages safely in adults, children, and even babies. Unlike steroid nasal sprays or antihistamine nasal sprays, you can use a saline spray as often as you need to relieve your symptoms.

This article discusses how nasal sprays work and the correct way to use them. It also lists some of the common brands and explains how you can make your own at home.

Woman using nasal spray for controlling rhinitis
Burger / Getty Images

Uses

Saline nasal sprays help relieve nasal congestion through a process called osmosis. This is where water molecules are moved through membranes to equalize moisture on both sides.

With saline nasal sprays, the salt in the saline solution draws moisture from nasal passages. If the nasal passages are swollen, the spray can draw water out to reduce fluid overload and improve breathing. If nasal passages are dry, the spray can draw water out to increase moisture and prevent cracking or bleeding.

Saline nasal sprays can be used for the following purposes:

Saline Nasal Spray and COVID-19

Some studies suggest that saline nasal spray can help reduce congestion, runny nose, and sneezing in people with COVID-19. Even so, speak with your healthcare provider before using any nasal spray to treat COVID-19.

Types of Saline Nasal Spray

Most saline nasal sprays have the same two ingredients; sterilized water and salt (sodium chloride). Sometimes, preservatives are added to increase the product's shelf life. Saline nasal sprays are available over the counter at most drugstores and generally cost a few dollars.

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Click Play to Learn How to Use Saline Nasal Spray

This video has been medically reviewed by Sanja Jelic, MD.

Saline nasal sprays usually come in a squirt bottle or pump bottle. For babies and children, there are saline nasal sprays and saline nasal drops, both of which work equally as well.

In addition to the following OTC brands, many drugstore chains carry their own branded products.

Saline Nasal Sprays for Adults

  • Arm & Hammer Simply Saline Nasal Mist
  • Ayer Saline Nasal Mist
  • Ocean Saline Nasal Spray
  • Sinex Saline Ultra Fine Nasal Mist
  • Zarbee's Soothing Saline Nasal Mist

Saline Nasal Sprays for Kids

  • Boogie Mist Natural Saline Mist
  • Little Remedies Saline Spray/Drops
  • NoseFrida Saline Snot Spray

How to Use Saline Nasal Spray

The saline nasal spray you buy will come with instructions. You should follow them carefully. Your provider might also give you a different set of instructions.

There are some general guidelines for using any saline nasal spray:

  1. Sit or stand in an upright position. You do not need to tilt your head back.
  2. Gently blow your nose to clear any debris from your nostrils.
  3. Close one nostril by pressing your finger against it.
  4. Place the tip of the spray bottle into the open nostril.
  5. Close your mouth.
  6. Inhale slightly as you simultaneously squeeze the spray bottle.
  7. Repeat as per the instructions. Most saline nasal sprays recommend two squeezes per nostril.

Saline nasal sprays can be used in adults, children, and babies.

With that said, saline drops may be easier to use in infants because the tip of the spray may be large for smaller nostrils. Also, the spray can cause coughing or gagging in babies if squeezed too forcefully.

How to Make Your Own Saline Nasal Spray

You can make your own saline nasal spray at home with salt and tap water. Here is a simple recipe to try:

  1. Mix one teaspoon of non-iodized or kosher salt with four cups of regular tap water.
  2. Put in pot and gently boil, covered, for 20 minutes.
  3. Let cool to lukewarm.
  4. Put in a sterile squeeze bottle.

The high salt content is hostile to most bacteria and disease-causing microorganisms. Even so, the solution should be kept for no longer than three days, whether at room temperature or refrigerated. Discard the contents after three days, and wash the bottle thoroughly between uses.

You can also combine 1/4 teaspoon of non-iodized salt with one cup of distilled water and mix to dissolve. Place in a sterile squeeze bottle, and discard the contents after 24 hours.

Side Effects of Saline Nasal Spray

Saline nasal sprays are generally safe and usually do not cause any side effects. If you notice stinging in your nose after spraying, it is more likely due to preservatives in the product. Switching to a preservative-free spray may help.

Although saline nasal sprays are safe for daily, ongoing use, they can cause a runny nose if you use too much at one time.

Mixing Saline and Medicated Nasal Sprays

Saline does not interact with other medications. However, if you use a saline nasal spray with a medicated nasal spray, use the saline spray first. This ensures you don't rinse the medication from your nostrils.

Alternatives to Saline Nasal Spray

Saline nasal sprays may not be enough to relieve nasal congestion. You may need other treatments, particularly if your nasal passages are completely shut and you are forced to mouth-breathe.

One such example is an age-old home remedy known as a neti pot. This is simply a pot with a spout through which you can pour salt water into your nostrils. The process itself is referred to as nasal irrigation. Neti pots can be found online and in most larger retail drugstores.

There are also medicated nasal sprays, both over-the-counter and prescription, that you can use to treat certain nasal conditions:

  • Antihistamine nasal sprays treat nasal allergy symptoms by blocking the action of an allergy-causing substance known as histamine.
  • Decongestant nasal sprays contain ingredients that help open blocked nasal passages.
  • Steroid nasal sprays treat a wide range of allergic and non-allergic conditions, including nasal polyps, by reducing inflammation.
  • Cromolyn nasal sprays treat nasal allergy symptoms by preventing the release of histamine from white blood cells known as mast cells.

The overuse of decongestant nasal sprays can lead to rebound congestion in which your nasal congestion gets worse rather than better. For this reason, decongestant nasal sprays should not be used for longer than three days.

Rebound congestion is not associated with antihistamine, steroid, or cromolyn nasal sprays, but there are side effects and complications associated with the overuse of these products. Speak with your healthcare provider before using any medicated spray to treat a nasal condition.

Summary

Saline nasal sprays contain a mixture of salt and water and help relieve congestion caused by colds, flu, allergies, and other upper respiratory conditions. They can also keep nasal passages from drying out and aid with healing after nasal or sinus surgery.

You can use a saline nasal spray as often as needed. They are safe and usually do not cause any side effects. Saline nasal sprays are inexpensive and readily found at most drugstores. You can also make your own at home with non-iodized table salt and water.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does saline nasal spray clean sinuses?

    A saline nasal spray can rinse your nasal passages. This can help clear up congestion from colds or allergies.

  • Can saline nasal spray be harmful?

    Saline nasal sprays are safe and don't usually cause side effects. There is no risk of rebound congestion with saline nasal sprays like there can be with other nasal sprays.

  • Can saline solution dry out your nose?

    Some OTC saline nasal sprays have preservatives in them that can be drying or irritating. Look for brands that are preservative-free.

8 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.
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By Brandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.