Using a nasal spray seems pretty straightforward: You stick it up your nose, squeeze or pump, and go about your day. But, according to a recent TikTok video, it’s very likely that your technique could use some improvement for max efficacy. (Remember: Nasal sprays are lumped into different categories, but are most often used to relieve allergy symptoms or congestion due to a cold or flu.)
The TikTok comes courtesy of Sina Joorabchi, D.O., an ear, nose, and throat doctor and sinus surgeon with South Florida ENT Associates. In the video, Dr. Joorabchi breaks down the how to use nasal spray correctly:
Blow your nose
Prime the pump
Angle the spray to the outside corner of your eye
Pull your cheek to open the nasal area
Spray and do a gentle sniff
“If your full sniff is 100%, think of this sniff as 25%,” Dr. Joorabchi says. “If you sniff too hard, it goes straight to your throat.”
Plenty of people admitted in the comments that they’ve been doing this incorrectly. “I’ve been doing it wrong for my entire life! Thank you!” one wrote. “Whoops. I always sniff as hard as possible,” another said.
Dr. Joorabchi didn’t get into the details of why each step matters, so we asked experts to weigh in with their thoughts. Ahead, everything you should know about how to use nasal spray the right way.
Step 1: Blow your nose.
This is actually really important, says Stanley Schwartz, M.D., Ph.D., division chief of Allergy-Immunology-Rheumatology at the University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “If you don’t blow your nose, the mucus that’s in your nose will dilute the nasal spray,” he says. “A lot of the spray will wind up going into that mucus and eventually be blown out or swallowed.”
By blowing your nose first, the mucus will be cleared out. “Then, the spray will hit the underlying membrane in your nose,” Dr. Schwartz says.
Step 2: Prime the pump.
The goal of this step is “to make sure the medicine is in the chamber so you’re not getting nothing,” says Catherine Monteleone, M.D., an allergist-immunologist and professor at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. She recommends watching while you push down on the pump (outside your nose) to make sure a little medicine mists out before you actually use it.
Step 3: Angle the spray toward the outside corner of your eye while it is in your nose.
There are bumps called turbinates in the center of your nose. If you don’t aim the pump toward the outside of your nose, “you can hit one of those large, natural bumps and injure it,” Dr. Schwartz says.
There’s also a risk of puncturing your septum, the piece of cartilage that separates both sides of your nose, if you repeatedly spritz steroid nasal spray directly on it, he says. “That septum is prone to breaking down and dissolving if you continuously spread steroids on it,” Dr. Schwartz explains.
Finally, aiming the nozzle toward your ear “just distributes the spray better,” Dr. Schwartz says.
Step 4: Spray and do a gentle sniff.
This is the important part, Dr. Monteleone says: It actually helps get the medicine into your nose. Timing is important here, she says. Spray then sniff, don’t try to spray and sniff at the same time.
As for the hack about pulling on your cheek to open it, both Dr. Schwartz and Dr. Monteleone don’t think that’s totally necessary, but it likely won’t do any harm. If you’re concerned about your sinuses being open, Dr. Monteleone recommends using your nasal spray when you’re right out of the shower, as the warm air helps widen your nasal passages.
It’s also important to note that not all nasal sprays are created equal.
These tips are helpful for any kind of nasal spray, but doctors say the frequency of use differs depending on the type of spray. Steroid sprays, like Flonase, “are designed to be used continuously,” Dr. Schwartz says. They’re low-dose, so your body doesn’t absorb a lot, and they build up over several days to help tamp down on inflammation in your nose, he says.
Decongestant sprays, like Afrin, are different. “Decongestants shrink blood vessels,” Dr. Monteleone says. “You can get a rebound effect that does not happen with steroids,” she says. That means if you use them for more than three days at a time, your nasal passages “literally become dependent on them” and swell up when you stop using them, Dr. Schwartz explains. Cue even more stuffiness than before.
If you’re planning to use a steroid spray and a decongestant, Dr. Schwartz recommends spacing them out a little—30 minutes or so—and repeating the best practices for nasal sprays for each one. Otherwise, they can wash each other out. When in doubt, talk to your doctor to ensure you’re using your nasal spray safely and effectively.
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