My sinuses have always been a wreck. Every purse I own is at Level: Grandma with its 7,000 crumpled tissues jammed into various crevices because I am constantly sniffly and/or goose-honky from being congested. On the rare occasions I’m not sneezing or blowing my nose, I’m clearing my throat because of drainage. Oh, and whenever I exercise, my nose goes into overdrive and I sound like Trump during those early debates: snffffff. SNURRRRFF. SNNK!

Whatever’s going on with my face-holes has been problematic for as long as I can remember, but towards the end of my pregnancy with Dylan, my nose just … sealed up completely. As if I’d packed cement in each nostril then superglued them shut for good measure. The only way I could breathe was with my mouth hanging open, like a dog — a rotund, giant-titted, farty dog — and I don’t think I endured that for long before I bought some Afrin.

You know Afrin, right? The stuff you snort and it magically opens your airways with a burny whoosh, and it’s like that scene from Young Frankenstein when Madeline Kahn has sex with the monster (who I guess had a Giant Abby Normal Dong?) and she’s like OHHHH SWEET MYSTERY OF LIFE AT LAST I’VE FOUUUUND YOUUUUUUU?

So anyway I used Afrin every day for like seven years after that.

As it turns out, the small print on the Afrin bottle where it says, “Warning: this stuff works, but if you use it for more than a couple days it will fuck you up like whoah”? Dude, they are crapping you negative on that one. If you use it too long, say for instance because you’re heavily pregnant and your nose functions about as efficiently as Voldemort’s, you will get what’s called rebound congestion which means you are now Afrin’s bitch FOREVER.

It would be embarrassing enough to admit I had a years-long addiction to nose spray if the rest of my, ah, dependency resume was squeaky clean, but add in the rest of it and, well, yeah. I’m not proud.

I’ll tell you, though, being able to breathe is a seriously powerful motivator, and every time I tried to just muscle through the rebound effect I caved. Eventually, having a nasal spray bottle within reach at all times just became part of my life, as inconvenient and expensive as that was.

Ironically, I was forced to quit when I went into rehab. Not because anyone thought I was catching an oxymetazoline high, but because all non-essential medications are off-limits. The timing was actually perfect, because I was so distracted with … *gestures vaguely at the charred and smoking landscape my life had become* I didn’t really even register what was happening congestion-wise.

I’m back to my chronic pug-sniffle, these days. I have to rotate sides when I’m sleeping at night because half my head tends to get blocked up. Every time I take a shower I stand in the steam until the hot water runs out because it’s so thrilling to breathe clearly. But by god, I am free of the tyranny of that little white bottle.

Take it from someone who has never met a life lesson she didn’t choose to learn the hard way: saline. SALINE ONLY. Also, if you ever need a dusty, wadded up Kleenex, I am there for you. I also have mints.

Comments

31 Responses to “The Afrin files”

  1. Donna Brubach on February 15th, 2017 8:29 am

    My ex had the afrin addiction as well. Switched to something called ocean water and was good.

  2. Sande on February 15th, 2017 8:35 am

    If you have candy stuck to the bottom of said purse and Equal packets we will need to call in for reinforcements! And if you are tucking used Kleenex in your sleeve like my elementary teacher did, then we REALLY have a problem! :o)

  3. Kim on February 15th, 2017 8:39 am

    I know the opinions are sharply varied on these, but have you ever used a Neti pot? I can’t take most OTC meds not from my addiction issues but because they make me feel heart attacky and panicky and terrible, so that weird little device has become invaluable during my Season of Snot.

  4. Ginger on February 15th, 2017 8:52 am

    Speaking of noses…I have spent years buying Sudafed, allergy meds of all types, the must ask the pharmacist for them suphedrine tablets and yards of tissues. Then one day about a year ago I quit. No more nose meds. The result is that things have stayed approximately the same except that I am spending less money. My nose is neither better nor worse. Decades ago when I had my wisdom teeth removed, the surgeon mentioned that my sinus cavities were much larger than normal. Perhaps that explains the excessive quantity my nose processes. And my own supply of wadded up tissues that I clutch and carry near.

  5. anne nahm on February 15th, 2017 9:09 am

    Neti pot, yo. Try it!

  6. Katherine on February 15th, 2017 9:42 am

    As one who has been there and earned a PhD in nasal flushing, etc., here is my (semi-solicited) advice: First, get thee to a good ENT and demand a scan of your sinuses. You could have a deviated septum, bony growths, or all kinds of interesting things up there causing this. Your insurance should cover the visit, especially if you’ve had any sinus infections. Second, daily saline flushes help. They rinse out irritating material and the salt causes membranes to restrict, which opens up the passages. And while neti pots work for some, a ball syringe works better if you can train yourself to snort up the water and spit it out. Gets the full passage flush rather than just the nose. You can mix your own saline: just find the right level of salt and baking soda (for neutral PH) in the water for you. Start with 3 tablespoons salt to one tablespoon soda for the dry mix, and put a scant teaspoon into about 10 oz of warm purified or previously boiled water. Finally, for those times when you absolutely need to open things up for a bit, try Zycam Intense Sinus Relief. It’s a mentholated natural gel you smear just inside the nosal openings and sniff up a bit. You get the whooshy clearing without the burn, it lasts 12 hours, and isn’t addictive. Good luck!

  7. Katherine on February 15th, 2017 9:49 am

    One more thing: if you’re a mucus factory, try eliminating cow dairy for two months and see if symptoms ease. The is a lot of info available about the correlation of dairy and increased sinus issues. Here’s one story: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carole-bartolotto/dairy-alternatives_b_3520374.html

  8. Archer's Mom on February 15th, 2017 10:46 am

    Katherine knows the drill, except I would say I prefer Neil Med products. They have a ‘water pic’ version that I have lots of success using.

    I suffered after my pregnancy similarly, but my doctor thought I was depressed. She ignored an MRI where my sinuses were clearly on fire. I just felt terrible constantly, regardless of congestion. Finally finding an ENT that took the time to diagnose my issues was life changing. My teeth grinding had, over time, punctured my sinus cavities and I was rotating through an ear/sinus infection cycle I wouldn’t wish on anyone. following an allergy protocol specific to your allergens can be transforming.

  9. misguidedmommy on February 15th, 2017 11:22 am

    The Neil Med rinse is the only way to go. It sucks for the first three days, and then it’s life changing!

  10. Jen on February 15th, 2017 11:24 am

    My first thought was unknown allergy. Have you been tested for common allergens? My nose is perpetually stuffy but I know it’s my cat so it makes it better a little I guess. I try to avoid petting her and the touching my face, etc but I know it won’t fully go away until I don’t have a cat.

    Also I find when I get a cold and it becomes unbearable, I avoid sinus infections by using the generic Flonase. I think that one is not like afrin but I don’t think it’s a long term solution either.

  11. Alison on February 15th, 2017 11:44 am

    Oh hi!!! Fellow former Afrin addict here.

    What Katherine said basically. I found out I have a deviated septum, the images of my sinuses look like a maze. My ENT put me on a short course of prednisone to help wean me off the sweet stuff. I’m not sure if that would help this far out, but you could ask.

    Pregnancy is the worst when your sinuses already suck. I allowed myself emergency Afrin (one squirt, only two nights in a row) during the last one because I was so desperate.

  12. Courtney on February 15th, 2017 5:28 pm

    At the risk of stating something obvious that you’ve already tried – Flonase. Non-addictive, safe to use long-term, and now available over the counter. It’s a local, intransal steroid spray with no addiction/abuse potential. And consider seeing an ENT as suggested above. Sinus congestion is miserable!!

  13. Sara on February 16th, 2017 7:29 am

    As the daughter-in-law of someone with a fierce Dristan addiction, I see you. I hear you.

  14. Hydrigeek on February 16th, 2017 7:48 am

    Listen. Sinus surgery is a miracle. Call today. I breathe normally without nose spray or steroid injections EVERY SINGLE DAY NOW.

  15. Kelly on February 16th, 2017 8:10 am

    Never met another former Afrin addict before. Good to know I’m not the only one. I just had to start taking allergy medication daily to deal. Claritin first, then Flonase.

  16. Elizabeth_K on February 16th, 2017 12:15 pm

    I’m just always so glad to hear from you; sorry about the cement-packed nostrils, though.

  17. Angela on February 16th, 2017 1:18 pm

    Dude. Duuuuude. Get yourself to an ENT, stat, and maybe also an allergist. Constant congestion/drainage like that is not normal. I know that the tendency is to minimize it because it’s “just a stuffy nose” but it is majorly impacting your quality of life and it can be fixed. At the very least getting a CT scan of your sinuses will let you know what exactly you’re dealing with. ENT. Go.

  18. Erin on February 16th, 2017 6:31 pm

    I used to have an afrin habit as well. Getting a scan of my sinuses, seeing an allergist, and ultimately getting sinus surgery was one of the best things I have ever done. Get thee to an ENT.

  19. Joanna on February 17th, 2017 5:06 am

    I’m similarly blessed with non functional sinuses. I feel like the Neti pot doesn’t work when you don’t have good drainage paths – what goes up does not come down like it should. When I used to try it I was basically just adding gunk to my head.

    I had surgery to fix my deviated septum and also widen my nasal passages a few years ago and now I can breathe. Before that surgery, I was basically breathing through coffee straws even when I wasn’t sick.

    I would see an allergist too.

    I don’t have allergies but my nose runs a lot and I’m still prone to sinus infections – but at least I can mostly breathe these days.

  20. Emily on February 17th, 2017 8:12 am

    Same. For many years.

    Dude. Go to an ENT. Septoplasty and Turbinate Reduction changed my life.

    Also, Neti Pot/Sinus Irrigation daily.

  21. Hanna Nelson on February 17th, 2017 12:50 pm

    After 2 years of nighttime cough, ENT/CT scan diagnosed me with deviated septum and dust mite allergy (also a little dog and hazelnut). I use Neil-Med to flush 2x day (also Dymista, but that’s not long-term) and started sub-lingual (daily) immunotherapy for the allergies. No rainbows and unicorns yet, but at least I know what’s going on. It’s horrible.

    I’d love to hear more life-changing stories about surgery because I’m petrified of that one…

  22. Coco on February 17th, 2017 1:19 pm

    I second (third? fourth?) all Neil Med Products. I have the cement nose, runny workout nose etc problem and my ENT suggested the Neil Med spray for Dry Noses.
    I have a wicked sinus infection right now and its even helping with that.

    life changing

  23. Maggie on February 17th, 2017 1:50 pm

    I feel every word of this post. I’ve spent most of my adult life with a semi- to fully- jammed nose. For years I’ve watched movies in which people are kidnapped and they put duct tape over their mouths and thought more than once that I’d suffocate if that was me because my nose works like total shit. Then I got allergy tested and found out I’m mildly allergic to cats. Well I’ve had cats nearly my entire adult life and I love them so I’m just living with the stupid crap nose. I have no advice, just sympathy.

  24. Lisa on February 17th, 2017 2:58 pm

    I agree with what some of the folks suggested- see an allergist or ENT doctor. I suffered from miserable allergies my whole childhood and they continued as an adult. I actually grew immune to most allergy meds. I started getting allergy shots several years ago and they have been life changing. I’m allergic to everything including my beloved cats which I’d rather die than get rid of, and the shots have made things so much better. I still carry Kleenex around like Grandma- so with you there, but I’m not full on miserable all the time any more and can actually enjoy being outside in spring & fall, the best times of year here.

  25. Tessa on February 17th, 2017 9:48 pm

    Girl. I suffered from a constant sinus infection for two years before I made an ENT appointment. I had surgery last February, recovery was crazy easy, and I woke up from anesthesia with no sinus headache for the first time in years. The literal worst thing about the surgery was them having to cath me for a pregnancy test because my shy bladder was extra shy.

    Also, I fifteenth the Neil med sinus stuff, but I like the squeeze bottle. More forceful, over quickly.

  26. Telegirl on February 19th, 2017 11:33 pm

    I didn’t even know that Afrin addiction was a “thing” back when I was having a worse time getting over a cold when I was actually over the cold. I now only do Afrin in emergencies and on special occasions. :) Just kidding. I only use saline because. Dang! Afrin!

  27. Lisa on February 21st, 2017 6:24 pm

    Ugh, yes — been there and done that with the Afrin. The only thing that shook my multiyear addiction was having surgery where the surgeon went in through my nasal cavity to my brain, and the post-op directions were very clear about how using any nasal spray of any kind would actually put my brain at risk. A week of rebound congestion did not seem so bad after that.

    But oh, the rebound congestion sucked mightily. Eight years on, I am still so so so so relieved that I no longer have to retain that peripheral awareness of where the little white bottle is, find excuses for ducking out to the store to go get another one, find ways to get a quick squirt in without anyone noticing … I do not miss any of that at all, not even on the nights when one of my nostrils feels as if it’s been sealed shut.

  28. Mary on February 22nd, 2017 9:24 am

    While we’re all giving unsolicited advice here :) the “Breathe” products from doTERRA are amaze-balls. (Or any brand’s equivalent, I just happen to use doTERRA.)

    It’s a super minty essential oil. The straight up oil is pretty intense – rub some on your palms and sniff. There’s a slightly-diluted roller-ball bottle version, and there are also Breathe “mints” – teeny balls filled with the oil meant to freshen breath but also clear the passageways.

    I use it over a decongestant any day, and not because I have any sort of problem taking OTC meds, but because it is such sweet relief. Good luck!

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  30. Erin on March 3rd, 2017 12:53 pm

    Have you considered Flonase? My husband was having terrible sinus problems and went on that and has been good since. Apparently it’s fine to use for an extended period of time (ie indefinitely).

  31. Fiona on March 9th, 2017 3:48 pm

    I’ve totally been there with the afrin addict thing, on and off for about a decade. A friend of mine shared a mix of essential oils with me that really works though – and I I don’t sell it or anything so don’t back away from the keyboard so quickly! :) Even my husband who’s laughed at me and called them snake oils when i used them for allergies was a convert after using this congestion buster when he was on his near-sinus-deathbed:

    1-2 drops of each in a mug of HOT water (I warm up in the microwave like you would for instant oatmeal or something)

    Lemon, melaleuca, oregano, pepperment – breath in slowly, and watch your eyes!!

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