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Finnish woman loses fight with cold using nasal spray for 18 months

The misuse of nasal spray to treat a stuffy nose is fairly common in Finland and can cause serious problems.

Meri Pitkälä
Meri Pitkälä says the quality of her life improved significantly when she quit nasal sprays. Image: Meri Pitkälä

Two years ago, Meri Pitkälä, 30, got a cold. In the pharmacy she found a nasal spray that seemed to help with her stuffy nose.

“I got rid of the flu for about a week but then it returned. I started to use the nasal spray again until my nose got blocked again.”

Finally, Pitkälä was using the nasal spray many times a day, but her nose remained congested.

“I became worried that there could be some indoor-air problem in our home or in the kindergarten where I work. But the kids were not getting ill very often, so the air quality could not be the reason.”

With less energy to play with the kids at work or exercise, Pitkälä was becoming desperate. The doctors she visited told her to drink tea with honey and to use nasal spray.

“I will never buy nasal spray again”

After the cold had continued for one-and-a-half years, Pitkälä again made a stop at a nearby pharmacy to buy more nasal spray. A pharmacist pulled her aside and asked how long she had been using the medicine.

The pharmacist was appalled and explained to Pitkälä how the long-term use of nasal spray destroys the mucous membranes.

Finally the pharmacy refused to sell the spray to her. Instead, Pitkälä was given sea salt spray, which moisturises the membranes and gradually the cold eased.

“I will never again buy nasal spray for a cold. My quality of life has improved significantly and I’m doing much better since I discontinued its use.”

Nainen vetää nenäsuihketta sieraimeen
Image: Satu Krautsuk / Yle

A common problem

According to the Association of Finnish pharmacies, nasal sprays are among the medicines most commonly misused. “We tell our customers to visit a doctor if their cold symptoms don’t ease. While many do, there are some people who just switch to another pharmacy,” pharmacist Elisa Halttunen says.

Doctor Klaus Tamminen warns that treating a nasal spray addiction can last for a long time and require strong medication.

“The mucous membranes in the nose can be damaged very badly if a nasal spray is used for a full year. It may take another year to heal.”

Ratiopharm and Orion, which both manufacture nasal sprays remind patients not to use the products longer than recommended.

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