There is no feeling in the world worse than the sensation of not being able to breath through your own nose. A basic function that all humans and mammals take for granted is suddenly denied you. A feeling of panic grips you as you suddenly find yourself gasping for air through your mouth.
Believe me, I know what I’m talking about. I’ve experienced this nightmare first hand. In spite of it all, I’m luckier than many who’ve gone through this special brand of hell. For me, it was only my left nostril that closed up. Of course at the time, I didn’t feel very lucky. In fact, I was miserable, frustrated, and scared.
My ordeal lasted from December of 2004, until April of 2005. I can truly say that I owe all of this to three things:
1. My stupidity 2. My history of nasal allergies 3. Nasal Spray Addiction
How My Nasal Spray Addiction Took Control
My addiction to nasal sprays began innocently enough. I was born with food and nasel allergies. None of that stopped me from being involved in sports and outdoor activities. However, by the middle 1980′s I began to notice my nasel allergies seemed to be getting worse. Like many of you, my condition began to deteriorate with age. My symptoms included a runny nose (regardless of season or weather), and mild congestion. Allergies of every sort run in my family, so I wasn’t overly concerned.
Since I was young, and in good health otherwise, it never occurred to me to see a doctor. Instead, I headed toward the nearest drugstore and bought my first nasal spray decongestant. The effect of the powerful drug was almost instantaneous. One moment my nose was annoyingly clogged. The next moment I breathed in a rush of sharp, clean, air. This was great stuff. I didn’t realize that I’d just bought myself a bottle full of trouble.
Years of Nasal Spray Abuse
As the years went by, my allergies got worse, and so did my addiction to nasal sprays. If you’re still reading this, I’ll bet this rings a bell with you.
The doctors gave me stuff that just didn’t work the way I wanted them to work. I took pills that made me sleepy, and sprays that burned my nose. Neither had much of an effect on the congestion that had become a daily occurrence. I wasn’t getting that “instant clearing” that I was looking for. The only thing that provided any “real” relief at all was my otc nasal spray.
By now, I was carrying a bottle wherever I went. Once when I travelled to San Francisco, I packed away a bottle in my carry-on bag, in addition to the bottle in my pocket which was more than half full. I was only gone for a week. And yet the thought of possibly running out of my favourite spray so far from home was frightening. I guess I forgot that San Francisco has plenty of drugstores.
My nasal spray addiction had developed into a chronic problem. It never occurred to me that it wasn’t normal to take any over-the-counter drug for years on end. It never occurred to me to read the little warning on the back of the bottle: “Frequent or prolonged use may cause nasal congestion to recur or worsen.”
To make matters worse, the powerful “clearing” effect didn’t last as long as it once did. When I first started taking the spray, a few drops in each nostril would last all day. By this time, the same amount would last a few hours, if I was lucky. And my worsening allergies only heightened my dependence. This powerful drug was taking control of my life. I was headed for disaster.
Nasal Spray Addiction Lands Me in the Emergency Room
Things finally “hit the fan” on a cold, winter’s night during the first week of December, 2004. The weather had been bitterly cold, and my sinus condition had been very active. The situation would alternate from extreme runny nose to terrible congestion. The congestion was usually accompanied by a throbbing headache.
That night the congestion was particularly bad. My head was pounding so badly I couldn’t concentrate on the book I was trying to read. I took a hit of the spray in both nostrils. In a few minutes the right one opened with no problem. But a strange thing happened. The left nostril, which for some reason had always lagged behind the right, didn’t open. In fact, if anything, the pressure seemed to be increasing.
In a panic, I took another nasal spray hit and breathed in deeply. I waited 5 agonizing minutes. Then, 10 minutes. Nothing! My breathing became more labored. I tried to force air into my left nostril by closing off the right one with my thumb. Only the barest trickle of air was getting through. The pressure on the left side of my face felt like a vice was tightening inside my head. The chickens had come home to roust. My addiction had finally caught up with me.
I won’t bore you with the details of how I ended up in the emergency room of our local hospital. I came home almost 12 hours later with a prescription for some “useless” pills and my nasal spray bottle still tucked inside my right pocket.
A few weeks later, I ended up in another doctor’s office who prescribed a different kind of spray. It worked somewhat. The addiction was still in full force, and my continued use of the otc spray was only making things worse. I could count on about 30 minutes of relief or less. And that was only partial relief at that. My left nostril never fully opened. Most of the time, my nose would make these funny, little squeaky sounds as I tried to draw a breath.