Allergy, Nose & Sinus

The truth about nasal inhalers

September 17, 2021
girl clearing a blocked nose

While many of us in Singapore tend to associate the nasal inhalers which look like white plastic tubes as an “uncle” accessory, there are some who simply cannot go a day without having these inhalers wedged in their nostrils. The most common reason for sniffing these small tubes is: to clear their blocked nose. While the ingredients of nasal inhalers seem harmless and may make breathing easier, there’s more than meets the eye. In this article, our ENT Specialist, Dr Gan, shares more on the truth behind these nasal inhalers.

How do nasal inhalers work? 

Unlike the medicated ones that require a prescription, these nasal inhalers that we are referring to are the all-natural nasal inhalers, containing a blend of essential oils and other natural ingredients to provide benefits similar to aromatherapy.


essential oils help clear a blocked nose


Essential oils offer a range of benefits such as boosting moods and reducing anxiety through aromatherapy techniques. However, nasal inhalers take a different and faster approach. These nasal inhalers contain mostly camphor, menthol, and/or eucalyptus oils. Although when inhaled, these oils make breathing feel easier, as if there is an increased sense of airflow within the nasal cavity, however, this is not what is happening within your nose. 

Quite the opposite, the use of these menthol inhalers has been shown to cause nasal congestion and this could be the result of irritant action. The main compound in these nasal inhalers is menthol, and despite it being used in vapour rubs as well as lozenges, a study has shown that menthol may be more likely to increase the chances of congestion instead of decreasing it. Menthol produces a cooling effect to lead users to believe their nasal passages are cleared and that they’re breathing better. 

Excessive amounts of menthol can also cause vertigo, dizziness, lethargy, abnormal eye movements, and in some severe cases, coma. On the other hand, camphor though natural, can irritate the mouth and throat, nausea as well as abdominal pain.


ent doctor on the effects of menthol on the body


Addiction to your nasal inhalers

Even though there are no addictive ingredients in these inhalers, most people tend to turn this into a habit especially if they feel that they are experiencing relief. Besides the side effects mentioned above, using too much of these non-medicated inhalers can damage the mucus lining of your nose, causing some patients to develop rebound rhinitis. This leads the patients to experience persistently blocked noses that can only be relieved temporarily with nasal decongestants. 


Instead of using menthol or camphor nasal inhalers to clear a blocked nose, some ENT Specialists and doctors recommend using nasal inhalers that contain decongestants. These can come in the form of nasal sprays or nasal drops that are available over the counter at pharmacies. 


how to clear a blocked nose with nasal drops and sprays


While the active ingredients in these nasal sprays and drops are very effective in relieving nasal congestion, prolonged usage can damage your nasal tissue. This results in rebound congestion, a situation in which your nose ends up becoming more congested than before. Other side effects tend to also include runny nose, fast heart rate, nervousness, and trouble sleeping. 

Hence, nasal decongestants are best used for patients with blocked nose due to a common, cold, flu or sinus infection whereby the nasal blockage should be relieved between 5-10 days. It is recommended to not use these decongestants for more than five consecutive days. However, if you do not experience relief from nasal congestion even after using these decongestants, then it is advisable to consult an Ear Nose Throat Specialist in Singapore to treat the underlying cause of your condition.

Read more: Top Three Reasons For A Stuffy Nose

In conclusion

Besides using nasal decongestants or natural remedies to relieve your blocked nose, it is advisable to see an ENT Specialist for possible allergies or nose sensitivity especially if your nasal congestion is a chronic situation. 

Reach out to Dr Gan, at his ENT clinic in Mt Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre and find out more about the treatment options as well as tips to help you kick this habit. 


    When Should You See an ENT Specialist in Singapore?

    • Any ear, nose or throat symptoms that you are troubled with or concerned about
    • Persistent blocked nose with mouth breathing or snoring

    Dr Gan Eng Cern

    Dr Gan Eng Cern is a distinguished ENT doctor with fellowship training. In addition to his clinical practice as an ear, nose and throat specialist in Singapore, Dr. Gan has contributed to the academic field as a Senior Clinical Lecturer at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore. He is recognised for his extensive research work, with numerous contributions to reputable international ENT journals. Dr Gan is also highly sought after as a speaker and has shared his surgical knowledge as a surgical dissection teacher at various prominent ENT conferences and courses.


    • 2020 – Reader’s Choice Gold Award for Best ENT Specialist (Expat Living Singapore)
    • 2016 – Best Educator Award (Eastern Health Alliance)
    • 2016 – “Wow” Award (Patient Compliment)
    • 2014 – Eastern Health Alliance Caring Award – Silver
    • 2014 – 19th Yahya Cohen Memorial Lectureship (awarded by the College of Surgeons, Academy of Medicine Singapore for best scientific surgical paper)
    • 2012 – Human Manpower Development Award (Ministry of Health, Singapore)
    • 2007 – Singhealth Best Doctor Award


    • MBBS – Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia)
    • MRCS (Edin) – Member of the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh, United Kingdom
    • MMed (ORL) – Master of Medicine in ENT (National University of Singapore)
    • FAMS – Fellow of the Academy of Medicine Singapore

    Why Choose Dr Gan Eng Cern


    Reliable & Reputable ENT Expert

    Experienced and patient ENT Specialist who has your best interests at heart. We aim to provide you with accessible and specialized care for any ENT condition in a comfortable setting.


    Friendly & Helpful Clinic Staff

    Our friendly staff will assist you to the best of our ability and we are happy to accept most insurance providers and assist with E-filing with relevant insurance providers or Medisave.


    Advanced ENT Equipment & Fully Equipped Facility

    Our ENT Specialist, Dr Gan Eng Cern, will be able to diagnose and offer personalised treatments for your specific ENT condition. You can expect a high level of ENT care in a spacious setting with in-house minor surgical, endoscopy, allergy testing and microscopy services.


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    There are various financial options available for you to ensure that you are able to receive the most optimal treatment and care. Our ENT clinic staff will be able to assist you with your medical insurance claims and work with your chosen healthcare organization to minimize the hassle and paperwork required. In some cases, you may be able to utilise the funds in your Medisave account to defray part of the costs of your treatment. As our clinic is accredited by the Medisave board, we are able to process your claims from your Medisave for certain clinic procedures.

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