What to Know About Saline Nasal Sprays

A saline nasal spray is a simple saltwater solution that can be used by both children and adults. It may help give you relief from nasal dryness (helping prevent nosebleeds), congestion associated with the common cold or allergies, or even snoring. It can also be a useful adjunctive (supplemental) treatment if you have obstructive sleep apnea. They typically come in a squirt bottle or pump bottle for direct use inside the nose, and are available over the counter (OTC). Saline nasal spray has little risk of side effects and can be used as often as needed.

Woman using nasal spray for controlling rhinitis
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What Is Nasal Saline Spray?

Most saline nasal sprays contain sterilized water, salt (sodium chloride), and sometimes preservatives to give them a longer shelf life. The usual delivery system is a squirt bottle or pump bottle. Similarly, there are saline nasal drops for infants, which use a dropper.

Saline nasal sprays can be purchased without a prescription in most pharmacies or even at a grocery store in the medicine aisle. There are numerous store and brand names, including variations on several themes: Ocean Mist, Ocean Spray, Ocean, Simply Saline Nasal Mist, etc. These products are not expensive, often available for just a few dollars but always less than $10.

You can also make your own saline nasal spray and use it with a small squirt bottle.

Uses

There are a number of conditions that might be improved with the use of the nasal saline spray. These include:

  • Dry nose
  • Nasal congestion due to a cold or sinus infection
  • Allergies
  • Nosebleed (epistaxis) prevention
  • Snoring
  • Postnasal drip

If you have a condition for which steroid nasal sprays are prescribed, your doctor may recommend using saline nasal spray before each application.

Some people with obstructive sleep apnea may also use the nasal saline spray to reduce nasal congestion at night when using CPAP. As it may rinse out particles called allergens, this may reduce swelling of the mucosa lining the nose. This can improve airflow through the nose and prevent mouth breathing (which may also contribute to snoring).

A benefit of saline nasal spray is that is no risk of rebound congestion (with stuffiness becoming chronic as the medication wears off). This problem might occur with prolonged use of decongestant nasal sprays such as Afrin (oxymetazoline).

Dosage

A saline spray can be applied through the nostrils as often as your symptoms require. It can be used daily without potential harm. The effects may be relatively short-lived, requiring multiple uses per day. If it is overused, you may simply notice a runny nose as the excess water drains out.

Modifications

Saline nasal spray safe for children and adults to use. For infants, saline nasal drops are preferred.

It does not interact with other medications, but if using saline nasal spray along with medicated nasal sprays (such as a steroid nasal spray), it should be used first. If you use it after applying a medicated nasal spray, you may rinse out the medication and therefore reduce its effectiveness.

How to Take Nasal Saline Spray

Review the product instructions to determine the best way to use your spray.

For general guidelines, follow these steps:

  1. You can be in an upright position, and you do not need to tilt your head back.
  2. Clear your nostrils by gently blowing your nose.
  3. Close the nostril you are not going to apply the spray to by pressing your finger against it.
  4. Place the spray bottle under the nostril to which you are applying it to an aim away from the septum (the middle of your nose) so you don't damage it.
  5. Close your mouth and inhale slightly through the nostril while gently squeezing or pumping the spray applicator. The usual instructions are to apply two squeezes.

Make Your Own

You can make your own saline nasal spray from table salt and tap water. The simple recipe is to mix 1 teaspoon of salt into 1 quart of tap water. For safety, boil the salt water for 20 minutes, then cool it until it is lukewarm. Use with a clean squeeze bottle.

Side Effects

If you notice any stinging, it may be due to preservatives in the saline nasal spray you are using. In that case, look for preservative-free products or make your own saline solution.

Alternatives

Depending on your symptoms, there may be other effective treatment options. For example, some benefit from the use of a Neti pot with saline solution to relieve allergies or to clear nasal congestion.

If you have ongoing problems with nasal or sinus congestion, see your doctor so your problem may be properly diagnosed and addressed.

The use of other allergy treatments or surgery—including turbinate reduction—may even be a possibility, depending on the nature of the problem. Speak with your doctor about what might work best for you, but starting with nasal saline spray is a safe and effective option.

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Article Sources
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  1. Oregon Health Sciences University Pediatric Otolaryngology. Saline nasal sprays and irrigation.

  2. Thieme U, Müller K, Bergmann C, et al. Randomised trial on performance, safety and clinical benefit of hyaluronic acid, hyaluronic acid plus dexpanthenol and isotonic saline nasal sprays in patients suffering from dry nose symptoms. Auris Nasus Larynx. 2020. doi:10.1016/j.anl.2020.01.008

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Nosebleed (epistaxis): Prevention. Updated October 23, 2019.

  4. American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery. Post-nasal drip. 2020.

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

  6. Cleveland Clinic. Nasal sprays work best when you use them correctly—here’s how. October 2016.

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