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A quick look at the best over-the-counter (OTC) nasal sprays:
- Best over-the-counter nasal spray overall: Afrin Pump-Mist Maximum Strength
- Best over-the counter nasal spray for kids: Kid’s Flonase
- Best over-the-counter nasal spray for sinus headache: Mucinex Sinus-Max Full Force Decongestant Spray
- Best over-the-counter nasal spray for allergies: Flonase Allergy Relief Nasal Spray
- Best over-the-counter saline nasal spray: Arm and Hammer Simply Saline Nasal Care
- Best drug-free over-the-counter nasal spray: Xlear Natural Saline Nasal Spray
Nasal sprays are medications that you spray directly into your nose. These products are sometimes recommended to treat symptoms of sinus pressure and inflammation, which can be caused by allergies or a sinus infection. These sprays can apply active ingredients directly to the site of your discomfort, which can help to provide quick relief for pressure and congestion.
Nasal sprays that are only available with a prescription have a higher dose of active ingredients and a slightly increased risk of side effects. But many nasal spray products are available over the counter and can be purchased conveniently at any drug store or even online.
Certain products are designed to be better at treating certain conditions, but wading through and narrowing down what might work best can be a daunting task. We read through hundreds of customer reviews, product descriptions, and medical literature so you don’t have to.
OTC nasal sprays can be categorized by their active ingredients (or lack thereof).
- Steroid. OTC steroid nasal sprays are mean to reduce inflammation. That’s why they’re recommended for treating allergies and chronic sinusitis. The steroid sprays may contain budesonide or fluticasone.
- Antihistamine. Antihistamine sprays are meant to blunt the impact of an allergen that your body is reacting to. These products are mostly recommended for allergies. Active antihistamine ingredients in nasal sprays are azelastine or olopatadine.
- Nasal decongestant. These types of sprays aim to shrink irritated blood vessels that line your nose, reducing inflammation to help you breathe more easily. Ingredients may include oxymetazoline hydrochloride or phenylephrine hydrochloride.
- Saline. Saline sprays don’t contain active ingredients, but they can loosen mucus and help you to breathe more easily.
We chose these products based on the following criteria:
- Hundreds of verified customer reviews. We read through what people like you had to say about the pros and cons of every product on this list.
- Transparent and honest claims. We disqualified any product that makes medically inaccurate or exaggerated claims about how their product can work in their advertising.
- Clinical trials and peer-reviewed studies. We checked the research on the active ingredients and long-term side effects of the products on this list so you could have peace of mind making your choice.
A note on pricing
- $ = under $10
- $$ = $10–$15
- $$$ = over $15
- Price: $
- Who it works for: The active ingredient in this spray is oxymetazoline, a nasal decongestant. That makes Afrin’s Pump-Mist a good choice if you’re experiencing nonspecific congestion that could be related to allergies, a sinus infection, or a combination of both. One dose (2 to 3 pumps) of Afrin Maximum Strength lasts for 12 hours.
- What to know: This product shouldn’t be used for more than 3 days consecutively. It contains polyethylene glycol, which some people may be allergic to. Afrin Maximum can be habit-forming. If after 3 days you’re still having symptoms, speak with your doctor and switch to another treatment.
Best over-the-counter nasal spray for kids
- Price: $
- Who it works for: The children’s formulation of Flonase contains glucocorticoid, a medication that relieves congestion caused by allergies. It’s also nondrowsy, so it’s okay for your child to take their dose before they’re off to school or a sports game. Glucocorticoid is an anti-inflammatory, but not an antihistamine, which can mean it’s more effective at treating congestion. One spray per day in each nostril is enough.
- What to know: This product isn’t approved for kids who are younger than 4. You should also know that there’s a chance continuous or overuse of Flonase can affect your child’s growth, so they shouldn’t use it as a long-term solution for years at a time. Kids should be supervised when they use this product and only take it in the recommended dosage. Note that this spray won’t work to treat congestion that’s caused by a cold or sinus infection.
Best over-the-counter nasal spray for sinus infection
- Price: $
- Who it works for: Oxymetazoline chloride is the active ingredient in this spray, which is meant to treat mild to moderate sinus congestion. As an added bonus, this spray contains cooling menthol, which can help soothe inflamed nasal passages and give you a burst of clean, cool sensation when you use the spray. Reviewers who swear by it say this formula works immediately.
- What to know: This spray should only be used once every 12 hours, and it’s not a long-term treatment for ongoing sinus and allergy conditions because it can be habit-forming. After 3 days, if your symptoms haven’t subsided, you should speak with your doctor and switch to another treatment.
Best over-the-counter nasal spray for allergies
- Price: $$
- Who it works for: Flonase is a nondrowsy formula that contains fluticasone, which is meant to treat all symptoms of hay fever. Fluticasone is a corticosteroid treatment that brings down inflammation in your sinuses without the sleepy side effects of an antihistamine. Unlike some other nasal sprays, Flonase is non-habit-forming, so you can use it year-round. It doesn’t just treat sinus congestion, either, but addresses watery eyes and itching as well.
- What to know: You only need 2 sprays in each nostril daily to get the full impact of Flonase. Some known side effects include nosebleeds and a sore throat. These side effects become more likely if you overuse the medication.
Best over-the-counter saline nasal spray
- Price: $
- Who it works for: This saline nasal spray is intended to add moisture to clogged nasal passages. It doesn’t work like decongestant or antihistamine sprays to constrict nasal passages, which can come with unwanted side effects. Instead, the spray loosens mucus with the help of baking soda. That makes it especially helpful if you’re clearing out environmental toxins you have breathed in. Some people who live in dry climates like to use it simply to irrigate their nose.
- What to know: Unlike other nasal sprays, it’s safe to mix this saline spray with other types of cold and allergy medication. But if you need relief from severe symptoms of cold, flu, or allergies, you may want to try one of the stronger sprays on this list. Keep in mind, too, that this “spray” is more of a fine mist and can take some getting used to.
Best drug-free over-the-counter nasal spray
- Price: $$
- Who it works for: XClear is a saline spray with a twist — it contains activated botanicals that have been shown to loosen mucus and help relieve sinus pressure. XClear contains xylitol and grapefruit seed extract, which give you a fruity infusion that irrigates your nose and helps clear out congestion. It’s non-habit-forming and you don’t have to worry about dosing. You can also combine it with other cold and flu medications.
- What to know: Xlear may be a supplement to treating nasal congestion. It may even work to help clear pathogens before they become sinus infections. Some reviewers say that they have been using it for years without any side effects at all. However, keep in mind that Xlear doesn’t have the same power as other nasal sprays that have additional active ingredients. It’s best used at the start of symptoms, but might not give you relief once a cold or allergies become more severe.
How do OTC nasal sprays compare to prescription?
In general, OTC nasal spray options have many of the same active ingredients as their prescription-strength counterparts. The main difference is typically the dosage that’s included in the spray. Prescription-strength sprays are also more likely to contain corticosteroids ingredients.
How do nasal allergy sprays compare to oral allergy medication?
Nasal allergy sprays tend to work more quickly than oral allergy medication. You don’t have to wait for your body to digest and metabolize the ingredients since they are applied directly to the site of your discomfort.
Nasal sprays aren’t typically intended as a long-term solution for allergies and frequent sinus congestion. Some people report that nasal sprays can be habit-forming, and side effects such as rebound inflammation and nosebleeds can occur if you overuse these products. Alternatives to consider include:
- Run a cool-mist dehumidifier or essential oil diffuser in your home to keep sinus congestion to a minimum.
- Consider a HEPA-filter air filtration device if environmental allergies are a problem indoors.
- Apply a warm compress to your forehead and nasal passages to soothe painful congestion.
- Keep oral allergy medications in mind as an alternative to nasal sprays.
- Breathe in steam or take a warm shower to loosen mucus that’s inflaming your sinus passages.
- Drink an herbal tea with peppermint.
Shopping for the right nasal spray starts with learning a thing or two about the active ingredients they contain. Once you know the basics, it’s much easier to narrow down which symptoms you need to treat and which nasal spray might work best.
Some nasal sprays can be habit-forming and aren’t appropriate for long-term use. You should speak with your doctor about a longer-term treatment plan if nasal sprays aren’t giving you symptom relief.