Have you heard of bathing your nasal passages in a saline solution? Many people have found relief from nasal allergies or sinus pressure this way.
In fact, saline nasal rinse products have become so popular in recent years that several big box stores now carry them, and many drug stores carry a broad selection of them.
In this article we’ll look at the benefits, methods, and risks of saline rinses to help you decide if saline nasal irrigation is right for you.
Nasal rinsing – Can it help with congestion?
By comparison, nasal saline rinse products don’t use chemicals but rather a measured combination of salt water with baking soda (for buffering). It is introduced into the nose by gravity or spray pressure, which then drains back out of the nostrils into the sink, along with mucus.
When the mixture is correct (see risks below for the alternative) and you’ve properly warmed the solution (not too hot, not too cold) the nasal wash can be painless and even soothing.
It can take some getting used to the technique involved and to the whole concept of the nasal rinse, which you may find “gross” if you’ve never heard of it or done it. But many proponents swear by the nasal rinse, having found no better way to restore healthy breathing and clear air passages.
Do nasal rinses work? Apparently yes:
- Many otolaryngologists, ENTs, and allergists prescribe saline rinses for their patients, and find that it can help to remove and and thin out excess mucus. Doctors recommend it because it restores healthy and refreshing moisture in nasal passages and eases mucous membranes inflammation.
- Many medical studies of saline rinses have revealed that nasal rinsing aids air flow and can even reduce the count of the white blood cell accumulation that often causes the inflammation or allergy symptoms.
How to do a nasal rinse
With each method, the “trick” is to breathe only through the mouth during the process, which keeps the solution from getting into your throat or esophagus. Then, the solution can enter one nostril and will naturally drain back out – ideally out the other nostril, clearing your passages of excess mucus along with it.
The three common “tools” for using a nasal saline rinse solution:
- Neti pots are long-spouted pouring devices that look much like a tea pot. Sometimes plastic and sometimes ceramic, you fill the neti pot with the solution (water and the saline-soda solution packet that the product comes with), and then tilt your head to one side over a sink while pouring the solution into your highest nostril, such that the solution drains out your lower nostril into the sink basin. The neti pot is considered the most gentle method.
- Saline rinse spray bottles use the same saline solution but you introduce the solution into your nose by squeezing the soft plastic bottle, thus squirting the solution into one nostril, which, because the bottle blocks the nostril, will drain the solution and mucus out the other nostril and into the sink basin. The spray bottle method is generally considered most effective because the pressure of the squirting action can get the solution further up into your nasal passages.
- Pressurized sprays are in a metal, pressurized can with a nostril-shaped nozzle, and are a convenient way to get a very small amount of saline solution into the nasal passages. Not really designed to be for a full nasal rinse, these pressurized sprays are better for moisturizing a dry nose.
Nasal saline rinse health risks
While considered safer than chemically-based nasal sprays, there are still several nasal irrigation health risks that you should be aware of.
- Product sterility – Since the contents of the neti pot or squirt bottle are going to be either poured or squirted up into your nose, and since the container is typically reused for this purpose many times, it’s important that you keep the container clean to avoid contamination. Follow all maintenance and container replacement instructions that come with your product.
- Sharing risks – If you’re sharing your nasal rinse container, you are introducing significant risk of sharing any germs/viruses that you or the other user has. Think of your nasal rinse container the same way you do your toothbrush – i.e., not a good idea to share with others.
- Water sterility – Most doctors (and product instructions) advise you to use distilled water to ensure that you’re not introducing any germs, bacteria, or other foreign matter into your nose.
- Measurement issues – For budget-conscious individuals, it’s tempting to consider making your own nasal rinse solution. In fact, there are many website with nasal saline solution recipes for doing this. But doing so increases the risk that the solution ingredients will be incorrectly balanced, which can not only make the process uncomfortable (too little salt creates a burning sensation) but can also increase, rather than relief, stuffiness.
- Long-term use risks – Recent studies on using saline nasal rinses say that too much of a good thing is a bad thing. A 2009 study suggested that if nasal rinses are used daily for many months experienced a higher incidence of sinusitis than those who did not use it continuously. The principle at play is that nasal irrigation can remove natural mucus coatings that provide some natural defenses against illnesses, much the same as how we need a a healthy gut “biome” of bacteria to keep us healthy. Thus, using it continuously adds the risk that, even as the rinse successfully removes bad, excess mucus, it can also remove beneficial natural fighters of bacteria, virus, and fungus. The solution is to avoid long-term continual use.
Do you use saline nasal rinses? Do they work for you? Please use the comments tool below to share your thoughts and experiences.