An Overview of Afrin Nasal Spray (oxymetazoline)

Man using nasal spray
Man using nasal spray. ballyscanlon/Getty Images

What is Afrin Used For:

Afrin is a brand name for the medication oxymetazoline. Its main use is as a nasal spray. It is sprayed into the nostrils to relieve congestion and other nasal symptoms of the common cold, allergies, and sinusitis. Many over-the-counter cold remedies also include oxymetazoline.

How Afrin Works:

Afrin causes the blood vessels lining the nasal passages to constrict (get smaller).

Sometimes, and especially with excessive use of this drug, the blood vessels can swell after the effects of the medication wear off, causing even more congestion. This is called rebound congestion.

How To Use Afrin:

Afrin is a liquid that comes in a plastic bottle with a special tip. Insert the tip into the nostril (so that only about 1/8 inch of the tip is inside the nose), squeeze the bottle to spray the liquid into the nose; take a deep breath as you do this. Afrin nasal spray is only intended for use in the nose and should never be ingested. You should follow the label directions precisely. Afrin nasal spray should not be used for more than three days at a time to avoid the development of a condition called rebound congestion (or rhinitis medicamentosa.

Who Should Not Take Afrin:

Children under six years, women who are pregnant or nursing, and people who have had an allergic reaction to Afrin (oxymetazoline) shouldn't use it.

This medication should be used with caution in individuals who have kidney or liver disease. It is recommended that individuals with diabetes, thyroid disease, heart problems, and a history of stroke or high blood pressure discuss the use of this medication with their doctor. It is important to clear all medications with your doctor and pharmacist to make sure that you are not taking a medicine that could result in an adverse reaction when used with Afrin.

Medication Interactions:

Afrin should not be taken if you are currently on or have been on a MAOI inhibitor such as isocarboxazid, phenelzin, selegiline, Emsam, and tranylcypromine in the previous two weeks. Before you take Afrin, your doctor and pharmacist should be aware of any other medications you are taking, (both prescription and over-the-counter, and including herbal supplements).

Side Effects of Afrin:

Side effects of Afrin vary but may include: burning or stinging the nostrils, increased nasal discharge, dry nasal passageways, sneezing, nervousness, nausea, dizziness, headache, and sleeplessness. If these side effects are particularly severe or do not resolve, call your doctor. The following side effects are serious and should be reported to a health care professional immediately: racing or pounding heartbeat, slow heartbeat (less than 60 beats per minute for most people).

As with other medications a serious allergic reaction to Afrin is possible. If you have symptoms such as swelling of the face, lips, mouth or tongue, difficulty breathing, speaking or swallowing, or noisy breathing (called wheezing), you should call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

A Note About Nasal Spray Addiction:

Some people have reported an addiction to Afrin (oxymetazoline). This is most likely the result of rebound congestion. After Afrin wears off, your symptoms may become worse than they were before you used the nasal spray. Some people use the spray again, getting caught in a vicious circle that might be seen as an addiction. This is why it is recommended not to use Afrin for more than three days at a time.


Medline Plus. Oxymetazoline Nasal Spray. Accessed: April 25, 2010 from

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