What to Know About Saline Nasal Sprays

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A saline nasal spray is a simple saltwater solution. It can be used by both children and adults.

It may help relieve nasal dryness. That help prevent:

  • Nosebleeds
  • Congestion from the common cold or allergies
  • Snoring

It can also be useful if you have obstructive sleep apnea.

Saline nasal sprays are available over-the-counter (OTC). You can use them as often as needed.

This article walks you through what nasal saline spray is, how it's used, its dosages and side effects, and what alternatives are available.

Woman using nasal spray for controlling rhinitis
Burger / Getty Images

What Is Nasal Saline Spray?

Most saline nasal sprays contain:

  • Sterilized water
  • Salt (sodium chloride)
  • Sometimes preservatives, to give them a longer shelf life

The usual delivery system is a squirt bottle or pump bottle. Saline nasal drops for babies use a dropper.

Numerous brands are available. Many have names such as:

  • Ocean Mist
  • Ocean Spray
  • Ocean
  • Simply Saline Nasal Mist

These products generally cost just a few dollars. You can also make your own saline nasal spray and put it in a small squirt bottle.

Saline nasal sprays don't put you at risk of rebound congestion. That's chronic stuffiness when the medication wears off. This is a common problem with the regular use of decongestant nasal sprays like Afrin (oxymetazoline).

Uses

A number of conditions may be improved with saline nasal spray. These include:

If you use steroid nasal sprays, your healthcare provider may recommend using a saline spray before the steroid.

Some people with obstructive sleep apnea may also use saline sprays to reduce nasal congestion when using a CPAP machine.

It may rinse out allergens, which can reduce swelling of the nasal passages. This can improve airflow through the nose. That prevents mouth breathing, which may contribute to snoring.

Recap

Saline nasal spray is saltwater. It can help with dry nasal passages. It's inexpensive and sold over-the-counter. You can also make your own. It can rinse out allergens and improve airflow. It may be used before steroid nasal sprays to soothe the tissues.

Dosage

You can use a saline spray 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 the excess running out of your nose.

Modifications

Saline nasal spray is safe for children and adults. For babies, drops are usually better.

Saline doesn't interact negatively with other medications. If you use it along with medicated nasal sprays, it should be used first. Otherwise, you risk rinsing the medication out of your nasal passages.

How to Take Nasal Saline Spray

Follow the product instructions that come with your nasal spray.

General guidelines are:

  1. You can be in an upright position. You don't need to tilt your head back.
  2. Gently blow your nose to clear your nostrils.
  3. Close one nostril by pressing your finger against it.
  4. Place the spray bottle under the other nostril. Aim away from the septum (the middle of your nose) so you don't damage it.
  5. Close your mouth. Inhale slightly while gently squeezing or pumping the spray bottle.
  6. 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
  • 1 quart of tap water

For safety, boil the salt water for 20 minutes. Then let it cool to lukewarm. Put it into a clean squeeze bottle.

Side Effects

Side effects from saline nasal sprays are rare.

If you notice stinging, it may be due to preservatives. Switching to a preservative-free brand or making your own should help.

Recap

Saline nasal sprays can be used as often as needed. Effects don't last long. The preservatives sometimes cause stinging. If that happens, look for a preservative-free brand or use homemade spray.

Alternatives

Depending on your symptoms, you may have other effective treatment options. For example, some people use a Neti pot with saline solution to relieve allergies or to clear nasal congestion.

Prescription sprays, allergy medications, or other treatments may help as well.

If you have ongoing problems with nasal or sinus congestion, see your healthcare provider. Then you can be properly diagnosed and treated.

Summary

Saline (saltwater) nasal spray is cheap and readily available. It helps keep nasal passages from drying out. It may help with allergies and reduce congestion.

You can use them as often as needed. If you notice stinging, look for a preservative-free brand or make your own.

Alternatives are a Neti pot and prescription nose sprays. Talk to your doctor about any regular sinus symptoms you may have.

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6 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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  2. National Institutes of Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Oxymetazoline nasal spray.

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