Nasal Irrigation to Relieve Sinus and Allergy Symptoms

Updated on April 2, 2018
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I have been performing nasal irrigation daily for over 20 years. When I have rhinitis or sinusitis, I might irrigate every few hours.

Neti Pot for sinus and allergy relief
Neti Pot for sinus and allergy relief | Source

What Is Nasal Irrigation?

In the early 90s, a physician’s assistant (PA) asked me if I did nasal irrigation. Since I had no idea what he meant, I figured I could safely say, “No." Most people now at least have heard of nasal irrigation through neti pot demonstrations on shows like Dr. Oz, The Doctors, and Oprah. So what the heck is nasal irrigation, and why should you care?

Nasal irrigation is a simple, painless way to clean the nasal passages with warm salt water. Why would this be beneficial? The benefits are two-fold. One benefit is to “pull out” fluid from the nasal tissues to reduce nasal stuffiness. The other benefit is to flush out excessive nasal secretions.

Benefits of Nasal Irrigation and How to Perform

The First Time I Heard About Nasal Irrigation

I have been performing nasal irrigation daily since about 1995. I do it almost as soon as I get up, even before brushing my teeth. When people learn that I irrigate, they often say, “That is so gross and disgusting.” My stock reply is “You suck on your mucous and swallow it. That’s not disgusting?!”

Perhaps more disgusting, I have demonstrated nasal irrigation for people multiple times. Why? Because I believe in it so strongly. I figure if someone can see how quick and easy it is, they may be more likely to try it. Nasal irrigation has given me such powerful relief of my sinus and allergy symptoms, that I wish that PA would have insisted I at least try nasal irrigation all those years ago. At that time, I was maybe a year into what became over six years of chronic sinus infections. Of all the people I have told about irrigation, and recommended they try it, only a few brave souls have actually followed through. Maybe that’s why the PA let it drop, having had relatively few patients willing to try it.

Use warm water, non-iodized, non-processed salt, and a bulb syringe or neti pot
Use warm water, non-iodized, non-processed salt, and a bulb syringe or neti pot | Source

Why Is the Idea of Nasal Irrigation so Scary?

To be fair, I was very reluctant to try irrigation too. A couple years after the PA mentioned irrigation to me, a friend and colleague started wearing me down, trying to convince me to give it a try. She too was having chronic sinus infections. She hit me with a bit of tough love, and basically asked if I wanted to feel better, or if I just wanted to complain. Good question, don’t you think?

I guess like most people, I thought irrigation would be disgusting, or painful, or that the water would go down the wrong way. I’ve heard plenty of people say, “I don’t swim. I don’t want the water to choke me”, or something similar. Well here’s a news flash, I’m a dog paddler, with face completely above water. And I’ve never had the water choke me when irrigating, or go down the wrong way, or anything uncomfortable. Nasal irrigation is really no big deal. Honest.

Naso-, Oro-, and Laryngo-pharyngeal anatomy
Naso-, Oro-, and Laryngo-pharyngeal anatomy | Source

Getting Started: How to Irrigate Your Nose

I’ve included videos on irrigation, each with good information, and one with demonstration. I guess most people use the Neti pot, but I just use a baby bulb syringe. Use a salt without iodine or anti-caking agent, just plain salt, such as kosher salt or sea salt. I use about one teaspoon of salt and one pint of warm water. You’re trying to match your body’s natural salt content. If you didn’t use salt, it would burn like crazy. Of course, too much salt burns too. You can also add a half teaspoon or so of baking soda. Alternatively, you could use normal saline, or buy pre-packaged salt and soda and follow the directions for how much water to add.

Depress the syringe, and draw the salt water into it. I lean over the sink, place the tip of the syringe into one nostril, and squeeze. I suppose I suspend breathing, but I don’t really pay much attention. One of the videos says to just breathe through the mouth. I do each side one to three times and go back and forth until I’ve used most of the water. I produce lots of mucous. I think the mucous is related to my reflux, but that’s another story. You may only need one cup of salt water, and wash each side two or three times.

As discussed in the Neti pot video, I blow forcefully through my nose periodically, but again, I have lots of mucous. Similar to the video, I bend over, and turn my head side to side to drain, and blow my nose with double tissue. I don’t however do exercises.

Neti Pot Demonstration

Tips for Sinus Congestion

When you have a stuffy nose, your nasal membranes in your nasal passages are engorged with fluid, causing swelling, and therefore narrowing of the nasal passages. The result is the annoying feeling of a stopped up nose.

For congestion, make the water a little saltier. This is using the principle of osmosis, like we learned about in grade school. If the environment on the outside is saltier than the internal environment, then the liquid will follow the salt. So the extra salinity of the water will pull excess fluid out of your nasal tissues, and help open up your nasal passages.

Sinus Headache

I have found that nasal irrigation is often my best relief for sinus headache. Often I will irrigate, and wash out a big glob. Disgusting I know, but my sinus headache will then soon pass. I also use King Bio Homeopathic Natural Medicine Sinus Relief spray, which helps. I carry it in my purse, because you can’t always irrigate if you’re out and about. You just do three sprays into the mouth. It has no taste.

Irrigation for Rhinitis/Sinusitis/Sinus Infections

Most of the time I wash out (that’s what I call it, washing out) my passages once a day, when I get up. That’s best case scenario. When I’m having rhinitis, I might wash out several times a day, when I’m feeling the mucous, such as post-nasal drip. When I’ve been really sick with a sinus infection, I’ve washed out as often as every 60 to 90 minutes. When that post-nasal drip cough kicks in, that’s the cure for me, to flush the mucous out with salt water.

When you wash out daily, it’s like an early warning signal for allergies or infection, when you see that your secretions are no longer clear, but take on yellow or green color. Colorful secretions without signs of sickness, such as fatigue or fever can be allergy, whereas you tend to feel sick with sinus infection. Admittedly, this is very gross. Getting all this grossness out of your body however is good. Most physicians would agree that having all that stuff in your passages probably makes you more prone to a full blown sinus infection. When you see signs of sinus infection, be sure to discard your syringe frequently, and use a new one. I order my syringes from Amazon, four to six dozen at a time. I throw out my syringe and use a new one every Sunday. If I’m sick I throw out my syringe every two to four days and use a new one. If you use a neti pot, sterilize often.

Talk to Your Health Care Provider

This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Consult your doctor or alternative medicine provider.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 rmcrayne


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      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 7 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

        I am a big believer in using a neti pot with salt water for nasal irrigation if and when my sinuses act up. It works faster for me than antibiotics if my sinuses get infected. I need to use it more often for my allergies.

      • tebo profile image

        tebo 7 weeks ago from New Zealand

        A thoriugh explanation of how nasal irrigation should be performed. I enjoyed watching the videos too. I do irrigations at times when my nose gets blocked usually from allergies. Great hub, thanks.


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