Intranasal Corticosteroids for Treating Allergies

By: Karen Serrano, MD

In some people, neither antihistamines used alone nor in combination with decongestants provide relief from nasal allergy symptoms. If this is you, intranasal corticosteroids may be the answer for your allergy symptoms.

  • Intranasal corticosteroids are a powerful medicine that keeps allergy symptoms from starting.
  • They often work for people who can't get relief from traditional treatment for allergies.
  • It may take several days before you see results.
  • They are only available by prescription.
  • They block inflammation, which relieves nasal congestion and swelling.

Although it may take several days before you see the results, intranasal corticosteroids are very effective in treating allergies. However, you need to follow the instructions carefully because overuse of these medications can cause problems in other areas of your body.


Because intranasal corticosteroids are such powerful allergy medicines, be sure you understand what your doctor tells you about using them. Also, read all the instructions on the label that comes with the medicine, and use it only in the ways described there. If you have any questions, contact your doctor or talk with your pharmacist.

Taking Intranasal Corticosteroids to Treat Allergies

Intranasal corticosteroids come in drops or nasal sprays. These delivery forms allow the allergy medication to be applied directly inside your nose. Your doctor may lower your dose after you get relief from your allergy symptoms. Unfortunately, intranasal corticosteroids won't help with the allergy symptoms that affect your eyes, such as dryness or irritation.

What Your Doctor Can Do for Side Effects of Intranasal Corticosteroids

If you're bothered by side effects, your doctor can often help by changing:

  • How much medication you take. Sometimes, reducing the dose can stop or minimize side effects. Or, your doctor may lower the dose and then raise it again more slowly.
  • When you take the medication. You may be able to cope with drowsiness or insomnia, for instance, by taking your medication in the evening or first thing in the morning.
  • How you take the medication. Taking your medication in smaller doses several times a day rather than in one dose can help. Taking it with food might eliminate side effects such as nausea.
  • The type of allergy medication. A different allergy medication may be able to stop your symptoms with fewer or less severe side effects.

Always talk with your doctor before changing how you take your allergy medication.

Side effects in adults are minimal when intranasal corticosteroids are used as directed. Overuse can result in more serious side effects. Even when the medication is used correctly, however, there are a few possible — although infrequent — side effects, including:

  • headache
  • nervousness
  • nausea
  • dry mouth
  • diarrhea
  • nasal irritation - burning or stinging
  • taste or smell changes
  • blurred vision and other eye disturbances
  • ringing in the ear
  • nosebleeds
  • growth suppression in children

Talk to your doctor if you experience any of these.

If Your Doctor Prescribes Oral or Injectable Corticosteroids

If other medication fails to relieve your allergy symptoms, your doctor may prescribe oral or injectable corticosteroids. These can usually only be used for short periods of time until allergy symptoms are under control. Follow label instructions carefully. Report any unusual symptoms to your doctor immediately. The use of oral or injectable corticosteroids can result in serious side effects such as swelling, pain, infection, and flu-like symptoms.

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Written by Karen Serrano, MD Emergency Medicine resident at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Reviewed by Lisa V. Suffian, MD

Instructor of Clinical Pediatrics in the Division of Allergy and Pulmonary Medicine at Saint Louis Children's Hospital, Washington University School of Medicine

Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital, Saint Louis University

Board certified in Allergy and Immunology

Last updated June 2008