Our bodies are made up of a lot of water, up to 60% in adults to be exact, and this fluid is responsible for a plethora of functions. While it helps lubricate our joints and regulate body temperature, it also plays a major role in keeping our mucosal membranes moist. When you think about just how dry our nasal passages would be without it, it starts to make more sense when you hear about people rinsing their sinuses—or does it?
For most people, getting water up their nose is a very uncomfortable feeling. When we jump into a pool or accidentally snort up some water, we don’t exactly want to feel that sensation again. That being said, the idea of irrigating our nostrils is becoming more and more popular. What many don’t realize is that before the craze of neti pots and saline sprays, this habit was utilized long ago.
It turns out that people in India have long used nasal irrigation as a form of Ayurvedic medicine. Their delivery systems were obviously far more simple than what’s found on store shelves today, but in some cases, it was even blended with yoga for a more therapeutic experience. Given that rinsing the sinuses has been around for so long, it begs the question of just how effective it can be and why.
The Basics Of Nasal Rinsing
If you’ve never heard of irrigating your sinuses before, the concept may sound rather strange. Our noses seem to be designed to keep water and debris out, so why would putting water into it actually benefit your health and well-being? Like many other things in life, both the items used and the specific method employed has a lot to do with your chances of success. It may seem odd at first, but many people are completely sold on the idea of regular rinsing once they’ve given it a try.
Although it might seem like our nostrils are two separate entities, they are in fact connected and attached to the sinuses—pockets that contain a thin layer of mucus. Although it’s unclear why we actually have them, they can be prone to infection and other medical issues, so the idea of flushing them out every so often isn’t completely radical. These areas are exposed to a lot of the debris that we breathe in daily, but that doesn’t mean they can withstand anything thrown at them, so it’s crucial to irrigate them properly.
The FDA warns that serious infection could result from improper irrigation, and although most of the devices on the market have received their stamp of approval, there’s still a chance that they could be used incorrectly at home. In order to gain the greatest benefit from a saline rinse and ensure that you don’t compound your nasal issues, it’s important to follow these steps:
- Always use distilled water or boil your tap water before using to flush your sinuses. Very small organisms might be present in your water otherwise and can lead to infections.
- Using water on its own isn’t always recommended—instead, a saline mixture is the most effective option for ridding your nasal passages of unwanted debris.
- Wash and dry your hands before handling a neti pot and ensure that your device has also been properly cleaned and dried.
- Follow manufacturer instructions carefully, which usually entail bending over a sink and tilting your head to one side. The flow of water should move into one nostril and out the other, so keeping your mouth open to breathe is important.
- Never use a neti pot if you have a clogged ear, as the simple act of rinsing could cause damage to your eardrum.
To Rinse Or Not To Rinse
The question of why someone would happily put water up their nose is still on the horizon, and while some individuals don’t see much of a benefit from regular neti pot use, others swear by it. Despite the fact that our bodies have developed a system of keeping our airways clean through mucus and hair, dust, dirt, and pollen can still irritate our sensitive tissues. One of the primary reasons that people turn to saline irrigation is to help with sinusitis, a condition that often leads to allergies or asthma.
Sometimes, we build up too much mucus inside of our sinus cavities, and even though it’s a substance that our body produces, too much of it can lead to irritation and inflammation. If this happens on a regular basis, people may experience allergies, excess post nasal drip, asthma, and headaches. Over-the-counter medications are available to help with these symptoms, but often times people prefer a more natural alternative and use a neti pot to flush the extra mucus out.
Much like the lack of understanding around the purpose of our sinuses to begin with, experts are still unclear about why this method is effective. As it’s a relatively small niche within the larger picture of healthcare, there isn’t even a lot of data to support the potential benefits of nasal irrigation. That’s not to say that no one is interested, however, and some medical conditions have been proven to subside with regular sinus irrigation.
Rhinosinusitis and The Common Cold
Similar in many ways to plaguing allergy symptoms, chronic rhinosinusitis entails the inflammation of one’s sinuses, along with other issues, including a blocked nose, excess, drainage, or pain and pressure in the face for at least 12 weeks. Rather than a seasonal issue that goes away once spring is over, this condition can be painful and interfere with one’s quality of life. In an effort to understand if nasal irrigation could help, a group of ENT doctors at Cochrane conducted a study.
A total of 116 adults who suffer from rhinosinusitis were asked to use one of several methods and then were evaluated to see how their symptoms changed. Some groups were given a placebo, others used a small amount of saline rinse with intranasal corticosteroids, and another group was given a high volume nasal rinse to use. Their symptoms were measured at both the three month and six month marks, and interestingly enough, the individuals who used a large dose of saline rinse only were proven to have fewer symptoms than the other groups.
Another recent study conducted in the United Kingdom took this same idea and instead applied the nasal rinse model to individuals suffering from the common cold. As these nagging spells of sickness are caused by viruses, and therefore cannot be treated with antibiotics, people are often left waiting until their symptoms go away. The use of a saline irrigation product could change the outcome for people stuck in this unfortunate situation by ridding them of the symptoms.
Two groups were utilized for this experiment, with 30 people using a saline rinse and 31 people acting as the control group. Although it was a small segment of individuals to analyze, the results were still interesting nonetheless: the duration of their illness was shorter by almost two full days and the needed use of over-the-counter products to help with symptoms went down by 36%.
How You Can Benefit
When all is said and done, the medical community still longs for hard and fast evidence that saline irrigation can be an effective treatment for allergies, colds, and more. Despite smaller studies that have taken place across the world, there isn’t quite enough data to support the claims that daily rinses could be a huge benefit to one’s overall health and well-being.
If you’re interested in giving a saline rinse a try, where should you begin? The sensation of using a neti pot can be off-putting for some, so it might be smart to use a saline spray at first. These products use a fine mist to moisturize your nasal passages, so while it may not be a true irrigation, it’s a good first step. As you become more and more comfortable using a spray, you can eventually graduate to a true irrigation.
When shopping for a neti pot, look for one that’s easy to clean and made from safe materials. Some manufacturers may turn to cheap plastics in an effort to produce an inexpensive product, but keep in mind that, technically, this can be considered a medical device, so investing a little more for a longer-lasting solution is wise. There are a variety of kits on the market that includes both a neti pot and premeasured packages of salt, which is a great option if you want something that’s easy to use and straightforward.
Rinsing your sinuses isn’t necessarily something that’s going to become a common routine any time soon, but if you suffer from nasal issues and are tired of using over-the-counter remedies with little success, why not give it a try? After regular use, you may find that your symptoms have decreased and you can happily say that rinsing your sinuses changed your life for the better.
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