Health Watch By Steve Mullenix

The North Jefferson News

It is scary to think that someone can become addictive or dependent to a drug you can purchase at any grocery store or convenience store.

Doctors and scientists define addiction in different ways. Scientists call drugs addictive if they stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain.

Psychiatrists on the other hand, say something is addictive if the need for it makes you do something illegal or harmful in order to get it.

Nasal sprays don’t do either of these, and while you may think you “need” them in order to breath freely, you probably aren’t going to rob a bank or skip work to go get some.

Nasal sprays or drops are sold over the counter under brand names like Afrin, Sinex, Neo-Synephrine, Allerest, Druarmist and Sinarest.

The most popular nasal sprays use many of the same chemically active ingredients such as Phenylephrine, Xylometazoline and the most popular, Oxymetazoline.

Not only are these chemicals bad for your body, but they can also lead to addiction and recurring symptoms that worsen over time. Repeated use of these sprays is also known to damage the sensitive membranes inside the nasal passages which can lead to chronic nose bleeds.

These nasal sprays or drops work by constricting the blood vessels inside your nose. When you have a cold, flu or allergy, the blood vessels become swollen or dilated. This stimulates the nasal membranes to produce large amounts of mucus.

Like stepping on a garden hose, constriction of the blood vessels reduces the blood flow to the nostrils. The swollen vessels shrink and this results in a decrease in the production of mucus. You are then “dried up.”

Unfortunately, your nose can become tolerant to the decongestant effect if you use these products too long or too frequently. Tolerance happens because your body starts a kind of biological counter attack against the effects of the nasal spray.

Your body starts increasing the cellular production of chemicals to produce the opposite effect. As this action – reaction spiral continues, that same squeeze of the nasal spray bottle doesn’t product the relief it once did. You end up using more and more frequently to get the same effect.

This cycle continues until you can’t exist without a bottle of nasal spray in your hand. If you don’t use it, you’re “stuffed up” and miserable. This condition is what is called “rebound congestion.”

When you use a lot of the medication, your nasal passages are dry and you feel healthy. When the medication is gone, the physiological changes that your body has made reign unchecked. The blood vessels swell up again, your nasal lining fills up with mucus and your runny nose returns.

A possible alternative to this cycle might be the use of a saline (salt water) nasal spray or possible oral antihistamines. There are also sinus irrigation systems available to flush the sinuses and wash them out.

These products can be purchased at a pharmacy under a number of different names and applications range from a squeeze bottle to a type of pot. Ask your pharmacist for assistance in the selection of these products.

If you are currently in this cycle of “congestion – spray – congestion,” don’t worry — it’s not permanent. If you decide to quit cold turkey, the changes your body has made will eventually be reversed in a couple of weeks or a month.

In the meantime, your doctor may be able to give you prescription drugs to ease you out of this cycle and safely combat your congestion.

Steve Mullenix (R.Ph) co-owns The Pharmacy in Mount Olive with his wife, Sherry Mullenix (J.D., R.N.). They can be reached at 631-1201.

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