Knowing what your nose needs

January 31, 1997


Staff Writer

Can't breathe? Got a stuffy nose? That's not surprising. Winter is the cold and flu season. But you don't have to be sick to be bothered by clogged nasal passages. Furnaces are warming homes and workplaces, heating the air and drying out your sinuses.

What can you do to be more comfortable? Steam from a hot shower or a vaporizer can relieve congestion, and nasal sprays can help.

Physician Michael J. Saylor, an ear, nose and throat specialist in Hagerstown, says three types of sprays help with congestion: saline solutions, decongestants and corticosteroids. And a relatively new class of medications helps with runny noses.


Saline solution

A saline solution is a mixture of salt and water. Commercial preparations are available in convenient spray bottles. The formula can be homemade by mixing a teaspoon of salt in a cup of water. Saylor prefers putting the solution in a spray bottle, but it can be used by pouring some in the palm of your hand and snorting it up your nose, he says.

Saline solution has no direct medicinal effect, but it is good for general nasal hygiene by washing the particles out of noses of people who work in dirty environments and for dry noses, Saylor adds.


Nasal decongestant products are available over the counter and do have a place in treating colds, upper respiratory infections or sinusitis, according to Saylor. But their use must be short term - no more than 72 hours, he cautions. There is a danger of becoming addicted to the medication. Also, after three days, the rebound effect of the drug can result in more stuffiness. Saylor compares the phenomenon to a cat chasing its tail.


Nasal corticosteroids are available by prescription and are used either once or twice a day, depending on the formula. These medications can cost $30 to $50 a month, Saylor says.

Dr. Nicholas Orfan, a Hagerstown allergist, points out that corticosteroids are different from the anabolic steroids used by body builders to "bulk up." So don't worry about developing a big nose if you use these medications. They tend to work well after using them for a few days to reduce production of mucus and reduce swelling. Although side effects may include some burning or nasal bleeding, long-term studies of up to 15 years of use have shown no significant atrophy or wasting away of the tissue. Orfan recommends following your doctor's instructions for use and having your physician re-evaluate their use periodically.

For a runny nose

If you're used to having a stuffy nose, you might not consider drainage a problem, but it can be. Atropine-like medications to reduce secretions are available for nonallergic conditions that cause noses to run like faucets, Saylor says.

These are available by prescription only. Check with your doctor for more information.

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