How does the runny nose work

Treating a cold: be careful with nasal spray

Status: 25.11.2019 3:36 p.m. | archive
Nasal spray can be addictive with prolonged use.

With a cold with thick mucus, many resort to a decongestant nasal spray to clear the nose. This enables those affected to sleep better, for example. However, the sprays available over the counter in pharmacies should not be used for more than a week. Because with prolonged use, they damage the mucous membrane and can be addictive. In some cases, only surgery will help. Nasal sprays with salt water, antihistamines or glucocorticoid are often a gentler alternative. It is important to cure the cold and strengthen the immune system.

Cold: cause, symptoms and therapy

The cause of a blocked nose, sneezing and shivering are so-called rhinoviruses. A simple cold usually lasts a week and symptoms are primarily limited to the nose. If the nose is still blocked after a week, a doctor should clarify the cause. Because the cause of the runny nose can also be an allergy.

How nasal sprays work

Decongestant nasal sprays contain so-called alpha sympathomimetics such as xylometazoline, oxymetazoline, tramazoline, phenylephrine, tetryzoline or naphazoline as active ingredients. These specifically stimulate the alpha-adrenoreceptors of the sympathetic nervous system and ensure that the blood vessels in the nasal mucous membrane contract. As a result, the nasal mucous membrane swells and breathing becomes easier again for up to twelve hours.

How nasal sprays can be addictive

With prolonged use, the nasal mucous membrane gets used to the decongestant nasal spray: As soon as the effect wears off, the mucous membrane swells excessively. This induces many affected people to use the spray again ("rebound phenomenon"). The nasal spray alleviates the symptoms briefly, but maintains them at the same time. Instead of clearing the nose, prolonged use leads to a chronic runny nose. Anyone who uses a nasal spray for more than ten days and does not experience permanent symptom relief is considered dependent.

Over time, people may develop signs of addiction, such as fear of suffocation and mood swings. In addition, the nasal mucous membrane slowly dries out so that it can no longer fulfill its defense function and germs have free rein. This increases the risk of inflammation, for example of the frontal sinuses. In addition, crusts can form in the nose and nosebleeds occur more and more often.

Depending on the nasal spray - what helps?

Nasal sprays containing cortisone are usually used for weaning. Often one nostril at a time is weaned. The decongestant spray is only used in one nostril until the nasal mucous membrane in the other nostril has recovered. In this way, those affected can usually do without the spray completely after two weeks. In any case, they have to survive a few days with a blocked nose and labored breathing. During this time, the risk of relapse is particularly high. However, once the nasal lining is weaned, it usually recovers completely. If that doesn't work, surgery can help. It prevents the front of the nasal cavernous bodies from swelling and the person concerned cannot get air.

Alternatives to decongestant nasal spray

If you want to breathe freely despite an acute cold, you can use a hypertonic saline or sea salt solution instead of decongestant nasal sprays. Hypertonic means that the salt content of the solution is higher than that in the cells and body fluids. The hypertonic solution is administered as a spray, drops or rinse and removes excess water from the mucous membrane so that it swells. However, the effect only lasts for about half an hour, then you have to spray again.

Cold: Blow your nose properly

If you blow your nose incorrectly when you have a cold, you risk inflammation of the eyes, ears and sinuses. Should you pull up the slime or blow your nose on your handkerchief? more

Experts on the subject

Dr. Sylvia Brockhaus, specialist in ENT medicine, allergology and laboratory medicine
Tram ring 3, 20251 Hamburg

Prof. Dr. Christian Betz, clinic director
Clinic and polyclinic for ear, nose and throat medicine
Head and Neurocenter
University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf
Martinistrasse 52
20246 Hamburg
(040) 74 10-52 360

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