By Dr. Max Gomez

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — There was a surprising finding in a new study that shows certain nasal sprays used by millions of people may actually protect against severe COVID-19.

They’re the common nasal sprays usually used to treat allergies, but CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez says this does not mean you should start using those sprays if you don’t need them.

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It’s that time of year. What’s commonly called hay fever and fall allergies are mostly cause by ragweed, and if you’re a true sufferer, there’s a good chance your doctor suggested a nasal spray. It’s not a decongestant but a corticosteroid spray — fancy talk for a steroid spray that has almost no absorption beyond the nose but that reduces the nasal inflammation that comes with so-called allergic rhinitis.

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Now, a new study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice found that these steroid nasal sprays also have a remarkable side effect.

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Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic looked at records from more than 72,000 adults in their system and found that patients who used intranasal corticosteroids prior to COVID-19 illness were 22% less likely to be hospitalized, 23% less likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit and 24% less likely to die from COVID-19 during hospitalization.

Lead study author Dr. Joe Zein says the steroid nasal sprays lower certain receptors on the cells of the nose that the COVID-19 virus uses to infect those cells.

“The nose has the highest number of receptors, way higher than the airways and the lungs, and it makes more more sense for the virus to infect where there is more receptors … The nose is the gateway to get, to have COVID-19,” Zein said.

That’s why Zein says it makes no sense to wear your mask just covering your mouth, leaving your nose — the primary route of COVID infection — exposed. Mask up!

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However, Zein also says that it is too soon to start thinking of steroid nasal sprays as either treatment or prevention for COVID-19. That will require randomized clinical trials, which he hopes will come soon.

Dr. Max Gomez