Decongestants

Easy-to-read medicine information about nasal decongestants – what are they, how to use them safely and possible side effects.

Type of medicine Also called
  • Nasal decongestants 
  • Oxymetazoline
  • Xylometazoline
  • Drixine nasal spray®
  • Demazin 12 hour relief nasal spray®
  • Dimetapp nasal spray®
  • Otrivin nasal spray®
  • Otrivin nasal drops®

What are nasal decongestants?

  • Nasal decongestants are used for the short-term relief of stuffiness or congestion of the nostrils.
  • This congestions or stuffiness may be caused by the common cold, sinusitis, allergies or hay fever.
  • Nasal decongestants work by narrowing the blood vessels in the nose area and in this way reduce swelling and congestion.
  • Nasal decongestants are available as a nose spray or nose drops. 

Dose

  • The usual dose is 2 or 3 sprays or drops into each nostril twice daily for up to 3 days.
  • Follow the instructions on the packaging — it will tell you how much to use, how often to use it and any special instructions. 

How to use nasal drops

  • To get the most benefit from the medication, it is important to use the correct technique when using nasal drops.
  • The following steps are a guide:
    • Gently blow your nose with a tissue to clear the nostrils.
    • Tilt your head back while sitting on a chair or lying down.
    • Hold the dropper over one nostril and squeeze the required number of drops .
    • Keep your head tilted for a few minutes. 
    • Repeat the steps for the other nostril.
  • Wipe the dropper with a clean tissue after each use.

How to use a nasal spray

  • To get the most benefit from the medication, it is important to use the correct technique when using a nasal spray.
  • The following steps are a guide:
    • Shake the nasal spray before use.
    • Gently blow your nose with a tissue to clear the nostrils.
    • Use your finger to close the nostril on the side not receiving the medication.
    • While keeping your head upright, place the spray tip into the open nostril.
    • Spray the medication into the open nostril as you breathe in through your nose.
    • Sniff hard a few times to be sure the medication reaches deep into the nose.
    • Repeat the steps for the other nostril.
  • Wipe the spray tip with a clean tissue after each use.
  • Replace the cap after each use.

Possible side effects

Like all medicines, nasal decongestants can cause unwanted side effects, although not everyone gets them.

Side effects What should I do?
  • Burning, and stinging of the nostrils
  • Sneezing
  • These are quite common when you first use a nasal spray or nasal drops.
  • Tell your doctor if troublesome
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Shaking tremors
  • Trouble sleeping 
  • Tell your doctor if troublesome
  • Signs of rebound nasal congestions such as painful nostrils, increased or worsening runny nose, redness in the nostrils.
  • Stop using the spray or drops.
  • Tell your doctor immediately.

Learn More

Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Dr J Bycroft, GP