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J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2000 Jan;105(1 Pt 1):39-44.

Is the use of benzalkonium chloride as a preservative for nasal formulations a safety concern? A cautionary note based on compromised mucociliary transport.

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Division of Immunology, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Cincinnati, Ohio 45267, USA.



Topical nasal solution and suspension delivery systems are available for short- and long-acting vasoconstrictors, ipratropium, cromolyn, azelastine, and glucocorticosteroids. The use of intranasal glucocorticosteroids has increased substantially because the efficacy of these agents has been well established for the treatment of perennial and seasonal allergic rhinitis. Adverse local effects of burning, irritation, and dryness are occasionally associated with glucocorticosteroid nasal preparations. Benzalkonium chloride (BKC) is a quaternary ammonium antimicrobial agent included in some nasal solutions (including glucocorticosteroids) to prevent the growth of bacteria. Some reports suggest that BKC in nasal sprays may cause adverse effects, including reduced mucociliary transport, rhinitis medicamentosa, and neutrophil dysfunction.


This article summarizes recent literature about possible adverse biologic effects associated with BKC as a nasal spray preservative by examining its effects on the following properties of mucociliary transport: ciliary motion, ciliary form, ciliary beat frequency, electron microscopy, and particle movement/saccharin clearance tests.


Both animal and human in vitro data suggest that BKC promotes ciliostasis and reduction in mucociliary transport that may be partially masked by absorption and dilution effects occurring in respiratory mucus. These possible confounding factors may account for several disparate human in vivo results. The use of BKC-free glucocorticosteroid formulations should be considered, particularly in patients who complain of nasal burning, dryness, or irritation.

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