Toddlers with nasal congestion or a runny nose usually find it difficult to breathe, eat, sleep, play and go about their daily activities. In such cases, nasal sprays or nasal drops come to the rescue, which can be directly administered into their nostrils for fast relief. However, while administering such medications seems simple, it is important for parents to know exactly how much to apply and how to apply them.
Dr Suresh Kumar Panuganti, lead consultant-pediatric critical care and pediatrics, Yashoda Hospitals, Hyderabad, says that nasal sprays or drops are useful, especially in infants younger than one year old. “This is because they are obligate nasal breathers. This means that they can only breathe through the nose, unlike adults, who can breathe through the mouth if their nose is blocked. Even a simple nasal block may give them the sensation of choking,” he explains.
Nasal sprays and drops: What are their applications?
Dr Sameera S Rao consultant pediatrician and neonatologist, Motherhood Hospitals, Banashankari, Bangalore, says that these medications can be used to treat several nasal and sinus-related conditions in children, including congestion, allergic rhinitis, sinusitis, and nasal dryness. “They can also be used for nasal hygiene, infection prevention, postoperative care and management of nasal polyps,” she adds.
Types of nasal sprays and drops
Nasal sprays or drops can be of several types — including decongestant sprays, steroid sprays and antihistamine sprays — that work in different manners.
Decongestant sprays relieve congestion by narrowing the blood vessels. However, it can cause rebound congestion, where one experiences a stuffy nose again if overused, says Dr Rao. “Steroid sprays reduce inflammation by suppressing the immune response, while saline solutions moisturize and thin out the mucus. Antihistamine sprays block histamine for allergy relief, while antibiotic sprays target bacterial sinus infections directly. However, they should be used at recommended dosages for safe and effective relief,” she advises.
According to the American Academy of Otolaryngic Allergy, other types of nasal sprays and drops include combination nasal steroid and antihistamine sprays, nasal anticholinergic sprays, nasal cromolyn sodium sprays and nasal irrigations.
Nasal sprays and drops: Do they help remove phlegm?
Dr Panuganti says nasal sprays and drops do not help in removing phlegm from one’s lungs. “Phlegm or sputum is present in our respiratory tracts, starting right from our nostrils to our lungs. While saline sprays or drops help in decongestion, reducing inflammation and clearing phlegm from our nose, they do not help clear or remove phlegm from our lungs,” he explains.
Side effects of nasal sprays and drops
Dr Panuganti says that while decongestant sprays and drops can give quick symptom relief, they should not be used in excess. “Parents may think that the decongestant spray or drop effectively relieves their child’s congestion and may overdo it. This can be counterproductive,” he notes.
Agreeing with this, Dr Rao adds, “Steroid sprays can cause nasal dryness, nosebleeds or throat irritation in some individuals. Antihistamine sprays may have mild side effects, such as a bitter taste or sneezing. It’s important to follow the recommended dosages, use them as directed and consult a healthcare provider if the side effects persist or worsen.”
Precautions to take
Dr Rao says that while nasal sprays and drops can be safe and effective for most adults when used as directed, their use in children, especially young ones, should be supervised by a healthcare professional. To avoid rebound congestion, decongestant sprays should be used cautiously in children, complying with the age restrictions stated on product labels. She also shares that children with specific medical conditions, allergies, those on other medications or those who have experienced adverse reactions to nasal sprays should be extra cautious and use them only under medical guidance. She recommends consulting a pediatrician to ensure that nasal sprays and drops are safe and appropriate for them.
Dr Panuganti says that nasal bulbs (bulb-shaped syringes) can also be used to remove mucus from children’s breathing passages. “For infants, the nose is the only pathway for breathing. So, nasal bulbs can help clear the secretions. However, we must be careful; we should use a bulb with a soft tip, squeeze it out and then put it in the nostril,” he explains.
Nasal drops or sprays can relieve children from nasal congestion or a runny nose. However, overusing them can come with some side effects. In addition, children with certain medical conditions or allergies can also experience an adverse reaction to nasal drops or sprays. Hence, doctors advise parents to strictly follow the guidelines given by a healthcare professional while administering such medication.