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Nasal steroid sprays offer relief from congestion, sneezing, watery eyes, a runny or itchy nose, and postnasal drip. Most require a prescription, but you can get two brands -- fluticasone (Flonase) and triamcinolone (Nasacort) -- over the counter.   

How Do Nasal Steroids Work?

Allergy symptoms such as nasal congestion happen because of inflammation (swelling). Nasal steroids cut swelling, mucus, and congestion in your nose. As a result, your nasal passages are less sensitive and are less likely to get irritated by triggers such as pollen, animal dander, or dust mites.

Are They Dangerous?

Nasal steroid sprays are not the anabolic steroids some athletes take to bulk up their muscles. Rather, they are corticosteroids, which are man-made drugs that are nearly the same as a chemical, called cortisol, that your body makes naturally. They are some of the most effective medicines for treating allergy symptoms.

You spray these steroids directly in your nose. So, most allergy experts feel there is little if any chance of serious side effects on other parts of your body, such as eye cataracts or bone fractures.

Mild side effects are rare, but irritation, headache, and a bloody nose can happen.

How Long Before I’ll Get Relief?

While these drugs start working within a few hours, you might not notice the full benefit for several days to weeks. You can take them with other allergy medications if needed. Your doctor might ask you to stop the other drugs to see if the nasal steroids work by themselves, though.

How Do You Use Them?

Read the directions on the package, or ask your doctor to show you how to use the spray. Depending on the type of nasal steroid, the instructions may be different. For example, with some, you have to tilt your head slightly forward. With others, you have to tilt your head slightly back.

The goal is to make sure the medication stays in your nose and doesn’t run down the back of your throat. To help, breathe in gently through your nose as you spray. Also, spray away from your nasal septum (the wall between your nostrils) to avoid irritation.

seasonal allergy map tool