Corticosteroid nasal sprays

Find out about steroid nasal sprays, including why they're used, how to use them and possible side effects.

Steroid nasal sprays, also called corticosteroid nasal sprays, are anti-inflammatory medicines that you spray into your nose.

They can be used to treat a range of conditions, including hay fever, sinusitis, non-allergic rhinitis and nasal polyps.

Some steroid nasal sprays are available to buy from pharmacies and shops, while others are only available on prescription. Steroid nasal drops are also available.

Common examples include beclometasone, budesonide, fluticasone and mometasone.

This page covers:

How and when to use them

Side effects

Using them with other medicines, food or alcohol

Who can use them

How they work

How and when to use steroid nasal sprays

Steroid nasal sprays can be used as a long-term treatment or just when they're needed.

For hay fever, it's best use them from a week or two before you think your symptoms will start, as they can take a few days to work.

The leaflet that comes with your spray should explain how to use it and how often. Ask a pharmacist or your doctor if you're not sure.

It's important to use your spray regularly, even if you're feeling better. It will only help if it's used every day.

If you miss a dose or take too much

If you forget to take a dose, take it as soon as you remember. If it's nearly time for your next dose, skip the one you missed.

Don't take a double dose to make up for a forgotten one.

Accidentally using too much steroid nasal spray is unlikely to be harmful if it's a one-off. Speak to a pharmacist or your doctor if you're worried.

Using a steroid nasal spray too much over a long period can make you more likely to get side effects.

Stopping treatment

If you bought a steroid nasal spray from a pharmacy or shop, stop using it when you think you no longer need it. Don't use it continuously for more than a month without speaking to your doctor.

If you're taking a prescription spray, don't stop using it unless advised to by your doctor.  You may need to reduce your dose gradually.

This can help avoid unpleasant side effects (withdrawal symptoms), such as severe tiredness, joint pain, vomiting and dizziness.

Side effects of steroid nasal sprays

Steroid nasal sprays don't usually cause any significant side effects if used correctly and at normal doses.

Side effects can include:

  • a stinging or burning sensation in the nose
  • dryness and crustiness in the nose
  • a dry, irritated throat
  • an unpleasant taste in the mouth
  • itchiness, redness and swelling in the nose
  • nosebleeds

If you're taking a high dose for a long time, there's also a small chance you could get some of the side effects associated with steroid tablets, such as increased appetite, mood changes and difficulty sleeping.

You can report any suspected side effect to a UK safety scheme.

Using steroid nasal sprays with other medicines, food or alcohol

Some medicines can interfere with the way steroid nasal sprays work, although this is uncommon.

Check the leaflet that comes with your spray to see if it could be affected by other medicines. Ask a pharmacist or your doctor if you're unsure.

You can usually drink alcohol while using a steroid nasal spray and you don't normally need to avoid any particular foods.

Who can use steroid nasal sprays

Most people can use steroid nasal sprays.

Ask a pharmacist or doctor for advice before using one if you:

  • have had an allergic reaction to steroids in the past
  • have recently had surgery on your nose
  • have tuberculosis (TB) or an infection in your nose
  • are having, or have recently had, treatment with steroid tablets or steroid injections into your blood
  • are looking for a nasal spray for your child (some nasal sprays aren't suitable for children)
  • are pregnant, breastfeeding or trying for a baby

Steroid nasal sprays are normally safe to use while breastfeeding and during pregnancy, but it's a good idea to get medical advice first.

How steroid nasal sprays work

Steroids are a man-made version of hormones normally produced by the adrenal glands (two small glands found above the kidneys).

When sprayed into the nose, steroids reduce inflammation (swelling).

This can help relieve symptoms such as sneezing and a runny or blocked nose. It can also help to reduce the size of any swellings (such as polyps) in your nose.

Steroid nasal sprays are different to the anabolic steroids used by athletes and body builders to improve their performance.

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