The Joys of Nasal Irrigation
By Galen Lastko,
I have to admit, I was always terrified of neti pots. The idea of voluntarily introducing warm salt water to my sinuses was up there on the list of weird hippie things my mom did that I wanted nothing to do with. Whatever benefits were available surely would not be worth such astonishing potential for nasal catastrophe.
The idea of voluntarily introducing warm salt water to my sinuses was up there on the list of weird hippie things my mom did that I wanted nothing to do with.
For those blessed with ignorance, a neti pot looks sort of like teapot, or a magic lamp that fits in your nose. One puts a salt water solution into the neti pot and then pours the water through one’s nose, somehow without sneezing or spluttering horribly.
There are many kinds of nasal irrigation, from the traditional neti pot to more advanced, electric devices. All of them more or less function similarly, and have similar requirements for safe usage:
- Boil Up! Drinking water contains many tiny friends: bacteria, protozoa, and more. Some of those friends can infect your head, as critters that would be killed by your stomach acid are perfectly safe in your nose. Sterilizing the water you use for your neti pot is a necessary step which can be accomplished by boiling it for 3-5 minutes, or you can use distilled or filtered water.
- Make sure the water is lukewarm and contains an appropriate salt/water ratio. We advice 16 ounces of water to one teaspoon of salt (please, not rock salt). A half teaspoon of baking soda will make it easier on the nose.
- Make sure your neti pot or other device is clean, dry, and ready for use, and carefully follow all instructions that came with it. When you’re finished, clean it again.
Why Use a Neti Pot?
The FDA is perfectly willing to endorse the use of neti pots for flushing out dry nasal passages, relieving congestion, colds, and allergies. For anyone who’s blowing their nose until it hurts, this is an alternative, albeit initially terrifying way to liberate themselves from the world of tissues and sore nostrils.
Pollen, dust, heavy mucus, marbles, and other foreign bodies are expelled efficiently and cleanly, and there is almost no chance of irritation. A properly used neti pot or other nasal irrigator can actually both clean and relieve.
How To Irrigate:
- Follow all cleaning instructions and prepare your saline solution as described above!
- Lean forward over a sink. Have a towel handy. Tilt your head forward over the sink so that your face is roughly parallel to the floor. Your chin and forehead should be level.
- Open your mouth, and breathe through it.
- Rotate your head to the side, and insert the spout of your irrigation device into the upper nostril.
- When your tilt the spout and saline solution enters your top nostril, it should pass through the bottom nostril with minimal discomfort.
- Do that thing track athletes do to clear your nose. Practice your aim!
- Rotate your head to the other side, and repeat steps 1-6 for the other nostril.
Really, the only negative effect of nasal irrigation is if proper instructions are not followed.
For the Kids
After you manage to soak half your bathroom in snotty salt water, you might feel compelled to afford your children a similar character-building exercise. After all, some youngsters already suffer from congestion and nasal allergies by age two. The trick here is to get your kid to tolerate a procedure which terrifies many grown adults. As always, check with your health care provider if you have any doubts or concerns.
FIELD REPORT: DAY ONE
Test Subject A: The author.
Test subject read instructions and attempted to use neti pot. Test subject failed to a) properly read and b) follow directions. Test subject ejected geyser of cold and salty sludge in a cone approximately 8’ long and 6’ wide, scaring all dogs within a 30’ radius. Test subject made outraged and horrified noises for approximately two minutes.
Sinus status: Clear but irritated.
Embarrassment factor: Medium well.
Test Subject B: The author’s lovely and patient girlfriend.
Test subject read instructions and attempted to use neti pot. Test subject successfully read instructions and followed directions, but began laughing approximately eight seconds into the procedure. Test subject snorted saline solution back out of nasal passages into sink and fled the test chamber in borderline hysterics.
Sinus status: Moderately clear
Embarrassment factor: High
Test Subject C: The author’s American Staffordshire Terrier.
Test subject knocked over neti pot and lapped hesitantly at saline solution. Test subject seemed utterly baffled.
Sinus status: Unaltered.
Embarrassment factor: None.
FIELD REPORT: DAY TWO
Test Subject A: The author.
Test subject read instructions and attempted to use neti pot. Both nostrils were cleaned without incident. Test subject still made outraged and horrified noises for approximately two minutes.
Sinus status: Immaculate.
Embarrassment factor: Minimal. Upon seeing this in print, extraordinary.
Galen Lastko, submitted on behalf of the SoHum Health’s Outreach department.
Related: SoHum Health