Rhinitis medicamentosa: aspects of pathophysiology and treatment

Allergy. 1997;52(40 Suppl):28-34. doi: 10.1111/j.1398-9995.1997.tb04881.x.


With modern vasoconstrictors, such as oxy- and xylometazoline, the risk of developing rhinitis medicamentosa (RM) has been considered to be small or even nonexistent. However, recent studies have shown that overuse of these drugs may result in rebound congestion, nasal hyperreactivity, tolerance, and histologic changes of the nasal mucosa. Using rhinostereometry, it has also been shown that the long-term use of the preservative benzalkonium chloride (BKC) in oxymetazoline nasal spray accentuates the severity of rhinitis medicamentosa in healthy volunteers. A nasal decongestant spray composed of a combination of vasoactive substances and BKC has a long-term adverse effect on the nasal mucosa. BKC alone induces mucosal swelling after 30 days use of the nasal spray in healthy subjects, unlike placebo. According to the author, rhinitis medicamentosa can be defined as a condition of nasal hyperreactivity, mucosal swelling, and tolerance that is induced, or aggravated, by the overuse of topical vasoconstrictors with or without a preservative. An adequate treatment of these patients consists of a combination of vasoconstrictor withdrawal and a topical corticosteroid to alleviate the withdrawal process. The underlying nasal disorder must then be treated. Patients with rhinitis medicamentosa who overuse topical decongestants and are able to stop using such drugs should be careful about taking these drugs again, even for a few days. They must be informed about the rapid onset of rebound congestion upon repeated use in order to avoid the return of the vicious circle of nose-drop abuse.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Benzalkonium Compounds / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Rhinitis / chemically induced*
  • Rhinitis / therapy
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents / adverse effects*


  • Benzalkonium Compounds
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents