Flonase Over the Counter for Allergies

Flonase Available Without a Prescription for the Treatment of Allergic Rhinitis

Flonase is the second intranasal corticosteroid spray available OTC.

Flonase OTC Available For Spring 2015 Allergy Season

Beginning in February 2015, Flonase (fluticasone) nasal spray will be available over-the-counter (OTC) without a prescription. Flonase is the second intranasal corticosteroid nasal (INS) spray to be sold OTC without being prescribed by a healthcare professional – the first being Nasacort Allergy 24HR, which has been available OTC since March 2014.

While many low-sedating antihistamines have been available OTC for many years, including Zyrtec (cetirizine), Allegra (fexofenadine) and Claritin (loratadine), the only other medicated nasal sprays available OTC are topical nasal decongestants (such as Afrin) and NasalCrom (cromolyn).

The decision by the FDA to approve INS sprays for OTC use is not without controversy. As was the case many years ago when Claritin became available OTC, many professional organizations of allergists, pediatricians and otolaryngologists are against INS sprays being available OTC. However, during the 1990s, the FDA labeled allergic rhinitis as a disease that could be recognized and treated without a healthcare professional. This means that the FDA felt that it was safe to have the public self-diagnose and treat allergic rhinitis using OTC products. INS sprays may not be as safe as antihistamines, however, and therefore the risks and benefits should be considered to determine if having these medications being available OTC is a good idea.

Flonase OTC: A Bad Idea

There are numerous professional medical organizations that believe that having INS sprays available OTC is a bad idea. The reasons for this for mostly related to safety, as various studies have shown that certain types of side effects may occur as a result of using intranasal corticosteroids.

First, intranasal corticosteroids have an effect on vertical growth in children (although other studies have failed to show any significant effect), experts believe that children who use these medications should have their growth monitored closely. Second, in people with a family history of glaucoma, there was an increased risk of developing glaucoma with the use of intranasal corticosteroids. Third, elderly people appear to be at increased risk of developing cataracts from the prolonged use of intranasal corticosteroids. Lastly, there seems to be some effect on bone mineral density from the prolonged use of intranasal corticosteroids, which could lead to osteoporosis.

Opponents to Flonase OTC also believe that consumers won’t understand that this medication needs to be used routinely in order for it to work. Unlike topical nasal decongestants, which bring relief in a matter of minutes, Flonase takes many hours, or even days, to begin to work. Therefore, people might use much higher doses than recommended, which may lead to more side effects. Many of the side effects, and misunderstandings of how intranasal corticosteroids work, could be avoided by having these medications remain by prescription only, which allows for frequent monitoring by a healthcare professional.

Flonase OTC: A Good Idea

The availability of intranasal corticosteroids OTC without a prescription is a good idea based on the safety of this type of medication. Nasal corticosteroid sprays have been available on the market by prescription for more than 30 years, with large amounts of safety data being collected during that time. The most common side effects include localized nasal irritation and nosebleeds, which are usually mild. The most concerning side effect is the possibility of nasal septal perforation, although this is rare. Most people should be able to follow package instructions that would include information about stopping the use of Flonase if nosebleeds or irritation occur.

Outside of localized side effects, intranasal corticosteroids rarely cause whole-body side effects. Studies on intranasal corticosteroids over a 2-year period showed no significant increase in glaucoma or cataract formation. Other studies failed to show any evidence of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis suppression, which is indicative of the amount of steroid absorbed into the body, affecting the bodies own cortisol formation. There have been concerns about vertical growth suppression in children by intranasal corticosteroids, although these effects are small and inconsistent. Measurement of growth by a qualified healthcare professional is recommended for children using intranasal or inhaled corticosteroids.

There is also an economic concern for the availability of intranasal corticosteroids OTC. Medical insurance will no longer cover prescription Flonase, and it is likely that other prescription intranasal corticosteroids will no longer be covered once there are multiple OTC options (there are now two: Flonase and Nasacort). However, this may be an advantage to some people, as the cost of going to a doctor appointment (taking off of work/school, traveling time and travel costs) far exceeds that of an OTC product. People may be more likely to try an OTC product for their allergic rhinitis symptoms, as opposed to going to the effort of obtaining a prescription. This may lead to better control of symptoms and improved quality of life.

Learn more about OTC medications for the treatment of allergic rhinitis.


Blaiss MS. Over-the-Counter Intranasal Corticosteroids: Why the Time is Now. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2013;111:316-8.

Friedlander SL, et al. Risk of Adverse Effects, Misdiagnosis, and Suboptimal Patient Care With the Use of Over-the-Counter Triamcinolone. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2013;111:319-22.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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