Nasal irrigation for allergies, sinusitis – and winter sniffles?

John Scott tried it out – and ended up with a milk jug!

The time-honoured practice of nasal irrigation using a salt solution is rapidly increasing in popularity as a cheap and convenient treatment for nasal allergies, congestion, 'stuffy' nose, post-nasal drip and sinusitis.

Traditionally known as Neti, and used by practitioners of Ayurveda and yoga in India for thousands of years, nasal irrigation is one of the six purification techniques used to prepare the body for yoga practice. Today, the practice is being recommended by conventional practitioners for hay fever and sinusitis – read more.

This simple procedure, which flushes out the nose using a mild salt solution, effectively cleans and hydrates nasal tissues, offering similar relief to that produced by antihistamines, decongestants and other nasal sprays. On its own, it may be sufficient to control mild allergy symptoms; if used alongside medications, it can reduce the doses needed by increasing the drugs' effectiveness – eg when nasal sprays are used after irrigation.

Nasal irrigation is not difficult or uncomfortable and, once learned, can be done in about three minutes, so can easily be built into one's regular routine, along with brushing and flossing one's teeth and cleaning one's tongue. The procedure is also suitable for children, provided that they are old enough to co-operate and a smaller amount of solution is used.

Whilst various oils and herbs can added, the simplest Neti technique uses only warm water and a little salt to provide a gentle, soothing stream of saline (in the same concentration as tears) which flows through the nose, washing away dust, pollen, mucous, viruses and bacteria, leaving it clean and able to operate more efficiently.

Snorting, pouring and squirting
Saline can be snorted/sniffed from any suitable container. Those people who don't like the sensation of the water running down the back of the throat and into the mouth while snorting, can form their tongue as if to make a 'K' sound, which will prevent the solution from exiting via the mouth.

Alternatively, the salt water can be poured from a Neti pot into one nostril, from where it passes through the sinuses and out of the other nostril, without entering the mouth. A Neti pot looks rather like a genie lamp, tiny tea pot or mini watering can, with an enlarged and smoothly tapered conical spout, which enables it to form a water-tight seal with any size of nostril. Once the pot is filled with warm saline and the spout of the pot is inserted into a nostril, the position of the head and pot are adjusted to allow the water to flow without any spillage.

Saline can also be squirted from either a custom-made device, of which there are several on the market, or any one of a number of readily-available squeezable containers such as various types of syringe and even turkey basters.

Experiment with as many different methods as you can to identify the one that suits you best. I expected that using a Neti pot would prove to be the most efficient method but, after road-testing them all, I finally settled on snorting from an old milk jug.

Nasal irrigation procedure

1. Dissolve half a teaspoon of sea salt or non-iodized salt (but NOT table salt, which contains additives) in 250 ml lukewarm water.

2. Fill a Neti pot or other chosen applicator with the salt solution.

3. Stand over the sink and sniff, pour or squirt the solution into each nostril several times.
If pouring from a Neti pot, tilt the head slightly to one side and ensure a good seal between pot spout and the raised nostril, remaining relaxed and breathing normally through your mouth. Raise the pot slowly to develop a steady flow of saline solution through the upper nostril and out through the lower nostril. The water should gently flow through the nose on its own. If it drains out of your mouth, lower your forehead in relation to your chin.
Reverse the tilt of your head and repeat the process on the other side.
If squirting, aim the stream of liquid as if you are trying to squirt the back rather than the top of your head and aim a little to the sides.

4. Repeat this procedure two or three times at each session.

5. To avoid your ears popping, don't blow your nose after carrying out irrigation, until you have cleared your nasal passages as follows.

First place your left hand on a fireplace mantle (or imagine that you are doing this!) and bend forward at the waist to about 130º, at the same time turning your head 90º to the left side, so that you end up in a position looking (or imagining that you are looking) up the fireplace chimney. While in this position, squeeze the right nostril closed and blow gently a couple of times through the left nostril. Then raise your torso to the horizontal position and, while still turning your head 90º to the left, blow again gently through the left nostril a couple more times.
Finally, reverse your position and repeat this procedure turning to the right side, to clear the right nostril.

6. Complete the entire irrigation procedure at least once each day – more often if there are a lot of irritants in the air or if you are feeling uncomfortable.

Further information
Read more on Neti
To purchase Neti products, visit Shop Holistic at 029 2083 0009. They can supply an introductory test kit comprising a small plastic travel Neti pot, special Neti salt and full instructions for £5.90, inclusive of postage and packing. Shop Holistic also sell various alternative designs of nasal wash bottle, such as the 'Nasopure' and the Sinucleanse squeeze bottle, and there are helpful comparisons on their website of some of these systems.

For those who want a more high-tech (and inevitably more expensive) powered device, there is the Hydro Pulse Nasal/Sinus Irrigation System –- 0870 744 6811

Click here for more miscellaneous respiratory research

First Published in November 2008

Top of page