Nasal Sprays: How to Use Them Correctly

Last Updated September 2020 | This article was created by familydoctor.org editorial staff and reviewed by Beth Oller, MD

Nasal sprays are liquid medicines you spray into your nose. They are used to help relieve congestion (stuffiness) in your nose. Congestion is often a symptom of a cold or allergies.

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Nasal sprays are available as either over the counter or as prescriptions. Also, they come in two types of containers: pressurized canisters and pump bottles.

Steps for using a pressurized canister

  1. Gently blow your nose to clear it of mucus before using the medicine.
  2. Make sure the canister fits snugly in its holder. Shake the canister several times just before using it.
  3. Keep your head upright. Breathe out slowly.
  4. Hold your nasal spray canister in one hand. Insert the canister tip into your nose, aiming the tip toward the back of your head. Use a finger to close the nostril on the side not receiving the medicine.
  5. Press down on the canister as you begin to breathe in slowly through your nose. Repeat these steps for the other nostril. If you’re using more than one spray in each nostril, follow all these steps again.
  6. Try not to sneeze or blow your nose just after using the spray.

Steps for using a pump bottle

  1. Gently blow your nose to clear it of mucus before using the medicine.
  2. Remove the cap. Shake the bottle. The first time you use the pump spray each day, you may have to “prime” it. Do this by squirting it a few times into the air until a fine mist comes out.
  3. Tilt your head forward slightly. Breathe out slowly.
  4. Hold the pump bottle with your thumb at the bottom and your index and middle fingers on top. Insert the canister tip in your nose, aiming the tip toward the back of your head. Use a finger on your other hand to close your nostril on the side not receiving the medicine.
  5. Squeeze the pump as you begin to breathe in slowly through your nose. Repeat these steps for the other nostril. If you’re using more than one spray in each nostril, follow all these steps again.
  6. Try not to sneeze or blow your nose just after using the spray.

Helpful hints

  • Talk with your doctor about how long it may be before your see improvement to your congestion. Some sprays take up to 2 weeks to work.
  • Wash the canister device at least once a week.
  • Be sure you can sniff air through each nostril before spraying. Otherwise the medicine will be wasted because it will not go deep into your nose.
  • Aim straight. Point the nozzle of the nasal spray container toward the back of your head. If you don’t spray straight, you will waste the medicine and may cause more irritation in your nose.
  • If the pump spray is used correctly, the spray should not drip from your nose or down the back of your throat.
  • If your nose hurts, if you begin to have nosebleeds, or if the inside of your nose stings, stop using the spray for 1 to 2 days. Sometimes it helps to use a saline nose spray (some brands: SalineX, Ocean Nasal Mist, or NaSal) just before you use your medicine nasal spray.
  • Follow your doctor’s instructions on how to use the medicine. Most nasal sprays work best when used regularly and consistently.
  • Keep your medicine away from sunlight.

Things to consider

Nasal sprays come with different kinds of medicines. Some of these medicines can damage the inside of your nose if used for a long time. Also, long-term use may make your nose stop responding to the spray. This may cause you to use more of the spray to get the results you had before. If this happens, talk with your doctor. He or she may be able to suggest something that will work better for you.

Some nasal sprays have a limit on how long they can be used. Your doctor can tell you how long you can use your spray.

Questions for your doctor

  • Why should I use nasal spray instead of pills or liquid decongestants?
  • Are there any side effects for nasal sprays?
  • How old should you be before using nasal sprays?
  • Are nasal sprays addictive?