Breaking the Habit: Understanding Afrin Addiction

Afrin Nasal Spray

Afrin nasal spray is a brand name for the class of topical nose sprays that decongest the nose quickly. This medication is very helpful and can “unblock” a nose instantly. We recommend that our patients use it before a flight for example to help the person travel without sinus, facial and ear pressure from causing the debilitating pain with altitude changes. Personally I use it before sleep (I have sleep apnea and need to use CPAP every night) if my nose is blocked. I will use it if my nose doesn’t respond to a sinus NeilMed rinse. If I use afrin, I won’t use it longer than 2 days in a row.

Problems of nasal decongestant spray (Afrin) addiction happens when a person uses it daily, often multiple times a day to find relief of constant nasal breathing obstruction. There are structures inside our nasal passages that swell and they function to warm, humidify and clean the air that we breathe. If these structures stop working, then our nasal breathing pathways may stay blocked and the function of warming, humidifying and cleaning stop working. This is when airway breathing gets worse and worse and often sinus infections become more frequent.

Below are 2 CT scans showing normal and abnormal anatomy. This is an actual patient that presented to our office addicted to afrin and we can see why. This person has an abnormal septum deviated to the right side with the left sided bottom turbinate showing obstruction due to the chronic afrin usage. This particular person has been using afrin for well over 5 years. He spends over $20/week on these sprays and he even has reserve sprays in case he suddenly runs out of his spray bottle! He’s spending over $1,000.00 per year on these sprays x 5 years, he’s almost spending the same as a new car!

Abnormal Ct Scan

Abnormal CT scan showing a deviated septum to the right with an abnormally large left bottom turbinate.

Normal CT Scan

Also, when this medication is used this often, it may be responsible for other problems such as elevated blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety and possibly even nose bleeds.

There are a few things that you can do to wean yourself off this decongestant nasal spray.

1) I first ask patients to see how long they can last without the need to use their spray. Do you need to use it multiple times/day or just at night before sleep? Some people can just stop “cold turkey” which can work. It’s important to know that after 3-4 days off the spray, your nose will return to the baseline before you ever started using the spray.

2) Get a sinus nasal rinse (I prefer NeilMed). Use this instead of the afrin. This is especially helpful if you awaken at night and can’t sleep. This nasal rinse will provide an avenue for relief even though it’s not as effective as afrin.

3) Buy over the counter Sudafed but check with your doctor first to be sure that you can use this medication. You will only need the Sudafed for a few days while you transition off of the afrin.

4) Pick a stop day and get rid of all the afrin bottles in your home! This is a challenging step because you won’t have the “go-to” spray that provides instant relief but know this will only be the case for a few days. I recommend your stop day be the night before your weekend. You may not get the best sleep and you’ll be able to take a nap the next day if needed.

5) Sleep with your head raised on a wedge or propped up on a few pillows. This is a natural way to decongest your nose.

6) Finally be patient and know that you will feel better and your nasal blockage will resolve in just a few days. Also, think about the savings you’ll have by not spending your hard earned dollars on an unneeded nasal spray.

If you have tried these steps and were not successful in your afrin taper, don’t beat yourself up. It’s a hard task to do. At Sinus & Wellness Center We can help. We can perform a detailed nasal examination to see why you are having trouble breathing. A Ct scan and a nasal endoscopic examination will provide all the clues we need to develop a treatment plan for you to breathe better! Imagine a clear nasal breathing pathway 24/7! We have helped a lot of people live their best life. This could be you!Visit our website at to learn more and schedule your appointment today.