If you are suffering from sinus or nasal symptoms, a saline wash might bring relief.
The balance of mucus in our bodies—particularly in our noses—is a delicate thing. Too dry, and you can be susceptible to discomfort, nose bleeds and infection. But an overproduction of mucus can make a hospitable environment for bacteria and viruses.
Nasal irrigation is a personal hygiene practice in which the nasal cavity is washed out with a saline rinse (a salt mixture) to remove excess mucus and debris from the nose and sinuses. If you’re fighting a cold, “rinsing infected mucus out and keeping your nose clean is a helpful way to start to feel better,” says Charles Ebert Jr., MD, MPH. “If you are experiencing nasal congestion, whether it’s allergic rhinitis (hay fever), sinusitis (inflamed sinuses), or non-allergic rhinitis (symptoms of hay fever without the allergic trigger), nasal saline irrigation could be potentially beneficial.”
How Do Nasal Rinses Work?
Nasal irrigation systems come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including bulb syringes, neti pots, spray bottles and battery-operated systems. Since there are many options, it is important to read the set of directions for use and care for your particular device.
For the rinse that goes into your nose, you have a couple of options. You can purchase commercially available mixtures, containing sodium chloride (salt) and baking soda, and then you add properly prepared water. If using premade packets, simply pour one packet into your device, add the treated water and then shake. Or you can make your own.
Saline solution for nasal irrigation:
- 1 heaping tablespoon of salt
- 1 heaping tablespoon of baking soda
- 1 quart of treated water
Combine ingredients, shake and pour into your squeeze bottle or neti pot.
Once the rinse is prepared, you want to either stand over the sink or in the shower. Tilt your head, put the spout end of the device in your nose and squeeze or pour.
“High volume, low-pressure systems are the best, like the squeeze bottle or neti pot, for washing things out,” Dr. Ebert says.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for regular cleaning of your device and plan to replace it after a few months of regular use.
What Water Should You Use for Nasal Irrigation?
The water used in nasal irrigation is very important to keeping the practice safe and healthy. The CDC recommends that water used for nasal irrigation be boiled or distilled before use. Water should be boiled for at least one to three minutes, and then cooled before using. Distilled water can be purchased at pharmacies; some bottled water is distilled, but be sure to check the label.
“There have been reports of primary amebic meningoencephalitis related to doing nasal rinses in the past, so the CDC recommends that if you are using tap or well water that it must be boiled. And then let it cool,” Dr. Ebert says.
Primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) is an infection of the brain caused by a microscopic organism called Naegleria fowlerithat is typically found in warm, fresh water such as lakes, rivers and hot springs. It infects people when the contaminated water enters the body through the nose and travels to the brain causing PAM, which is typically fatal.
Don’t let that scare you away from performing a nasal rinse. It just “has to be prepared properly,” Dr. Ebert says.
Your Rinsing Routine
Your symptoms will dictate how often you should rinse. People with chronic sinus problems, seasonal allergies or those who have had surgery on their nose will rinse more often than people who develop a cold from time to time.
“In my practice, people with chronic sinusitis who have had surgery do it twice a day, every day,” Dr. Ebert says. “I tell patients to put it beside their toothbrush, and if they’re brushing their teeth they should be rinsing their nose.”
If you’re dealing with a cold or the flu, you can irrigate three to four times a day if it improves your symptoms.
“The evidence has shown that rinsing decreases the length of your acute infection and symptoms. I don’t have allergies or chronic sinus infections, but when I do get a sinus infection, I irrigate a lot,” Dr. Ebert says.
Health Benefits of Nasal Rinsing
Nasal irrigation helps to thin the mucus in the nose, which helps clear the nasal passages of mucus and debris and decreases swelling. For those suffering from environmental allergies, rinsing can decrease exposure to the allergen by rinsing it out of your nose.
If you use a medicated nasal spray, rinsing before using your medication helps to prepare the nose by cleaning and removing any debris. A cleaned-out nose can help make the medicine more effective.
The bottom line? Rinsing can alleviate unpleasant nasal symptoms from a variety of causes.
“You feel better after rinsing, your cold doesn’t last as long and you can breathe better,” Dr. Ebert says.
Dealing with sinus or breathing problems? Talk to your doctor. Find one near you.