Many people have sinus and allergy problems–almost 10% of the US population! These problems are often treated with medication, medication and more medication. However, one of the most useful interventions is avoided… I’m talking about nasal rinses or irrigation. Usually normal saline, nasal irrigation is extremely effective at cleaning out the allergens and your own stuck-on secretions that cause nasal inflammation, sneezing, itching and runny nose. And because drying out of the nasal mucosa (e.g. as happens more often in the winter) can also lead to irritation and breakdown of the protective barriers in your nose, normal saline rinses can be quite helpful in keeping your nose and sinuses moist. This may also reduce the chances of catching viral upper respiratory infections. If you don’t believe it, there are studies on this stuff. Here is a review of several clinical trials that have shown the efficacy of nasal irrigation:
I know, I know, no one like to squirt or snort fluid into their nose. It takes a little getting used to, but once you get over that part of it, you may actually find a decreased reliance on your allergy medications as well as just greater comfort. In my opinion, using medication for allergies or sinus problems without using a nasal rinse is a lot like taking cholesterol medication but not watching your diet.
There are also many different formulations that you can find at your local pharmacy. They are all for the most part made up of normal saline. Some may have other ingredients. For example, I use a nasal rinse called “Alkalol”, pictured here:
that also contains a small amount menthol, which causes you to have a sensation of decreased congestion because the menthol activates chemical receptors on your nasal mucosa which simulates the sensation of increased airflow through your nose. (Note: I have no financial interest in alkalol, nor do I necessarily endorse it–this is just an example)
Nasal rinses come in several forms. Some are just solution in a bottle that you could simply pour into the palm of your hand (wash your hands first!) and snort (give it good snort so that you can feel it getting to the back of your throat). For these, you can also use a number of delivery mechanisms like a simple rubber bulb to squirt the rinse up your nose. Some rinses are in a nasal spray, which may be more convenient. However, here is a link to at least one study which suggests that sprays aren’t as effective:
One trendy delivery mechanism (if nasal rinses can even be considered trendy) is the neti pot, which has been a part of East Asian medicine for centuries. It basically boils down to some kind of receptacle, which looks much like a tea pot, from which you pour out your nasal rinse into one nostril of your nose while tilting your head to the side so that the rinse actually comes out the other nostril, thus rinsing out both sides of your nose. Here is a photo of a woman demonstrating how to use the neti pot.
I’ve never used a neti pot (and I’m not sure how motivated I am to do so after looking at this picture!) so I can’t really comment. But, it’s been around for hundreds of years, how bad could it be?
Regardless of what ultimately appeals to you or is the lesser of all the evils, as the case may be, you should definitely use nasal rinses–all the time, not just when you are feeling stuffy. It is really not possible to overdo it with normal saline nasal rinses or normal saline nasal sprays. For the sake of convenience, try it once or twice (morning and before bed) per day for a couple of weeks and see what you think. You may find yourself taking less medication in the long-run.
keywords: nasal rinse, nasal irrigation, sinus problems, allergies, treatment