Can You Wash Away Nasal Stuffiness with Saline Rinses?
There are risks to over-using over-the-counter decongestant nasal sprays. But when winter colds or spring allergies overwhelm your nasal passages with itchiness or stuffiness, do you have a choice? Here’s what you need to know.
Clearing Your Sinuses with Saline Solution
Regularly using a standard over-the-counter decongestant nasal spray, which typically contains such chemicals as xylometazoline or oxymetazoline, has risks. One of the biggest is a condition of nasal passage damage known as rhinitis medicamentosa . Using decongestant nasal spray for many consecutive days can lead to this condition and cause your nose to become unresponsive to the decongestant.
By comparison, nasal saline rinse products, such as neti pots and saline sprays, don’t use chemicals but rather a measured combination of salt water with baking soda. 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, and you’ve properly warmed the solution, the nasal wash can be painless and even soothing. WebMD recommends this recipe for saline solution.
Saline rinses provide a gentle, drug-free way to treat nasal stuffiness from the common cold, sinus infections, and allergies by thinning the mucus that blocks nasal passages and helping to flush it out. A more biological explanation for how this works has to do with tiny, hair-like structures called cilia that line the inside of the nasal and sinus cavities. These cilia wave back and forth to push mucus either to the back of the throat where it can be swallowed, or to the nose to be blown out. Saline solution can help cilia move more freely so that they may more effectively remove the allergens and other irritants that cause sinus problems.
How to Do a Nasal Rinse
The three most common solutions for nasal rinsing are neti pots, saline rinse spray bottles, and pressurized saline spray cans.
- Neti pots are long-spouted pouring devices that look much like a teapot. 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 you 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 for a nasal rinse.
- Saline rinse spray bottles 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.
- 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.
After each method, gently blowing your nose will eliminate the excess solution and further clear your sinus passages.
Saline Safety Tips
While considered safer than chemically based nasal sprays, there are still a few risks to be aware of with saline solutions:
- Keep it sterile – 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.
- Do not share – 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 – not a good idea to share with others.
- Use distilled water – 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.
- Do not overuse – A 2009 study suggested that those who use nasal rinses daily for many months may experience 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. 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.
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