Sinus Problems? Here's One Solution (no pun intended).

By Cheryl Switzer (Email: contact/cswitzer2+gmail+com)

If you are bothered by allergies, the occasional head cold,  post nasal drip, chronic sinusitis or just the occasional stuffy nose, there is an old tried-and-true remedy you should consider trying.   It's called nasal irrigation and it's easy to do.  While your first impulse might be to grab an allergy pill - cause after all, isn't that what we're suppose to do? -  perhaps it should not be our first choice at all.  Many of our great grandmothers knew to practice nasal irrigation to clear the sinuses and they did this because it really did help and in many cases resolved the problem entirely.  Add to this, it's low-cost, low-impact, safe and easy.  For the pulmonary hypertension patient who may be reluctant to add yet another medication to their regimen and who should avoid decongestants entirely, nasal irrigation (or nasal douche) is a great alternative therapy with a solid track record.

Unfortunately our doctors seldom mention home remedies and few of us learn such things from our grannies anymore.  Perthaps we weren't listening when they did tell us how to handle simple maladies or perhaps they just were not offered to us.

My 94-year-old neighbor tells me as a part of her normal shower routine, she sniffs in a little warm salty water whenever her sinus are bothering her.  She credits this for warding off colds and other more serious sinus problems over many decades.   And I have to say, she is a very healthy 94-year-old who has taught me much more than my own mother ever did in the realm of "how to's".

The origins of this simple home remedy are rather interesting.  The earliest record of nasal irrigation is found in the ancient Hindu practice of Ayurveda whose roots are traced to the Vedas.  The simplest method of nasal irrigation, that is to sniff water from cupped hands and then blowing it out, is also a step in the hygienic practices (Wudu) of Muslims (and my 94-year-old neighbor).

On the Oprah show a few years back, Dr. Emmitt Oz - he was new to television back then - endorsed the Neti Pot for nasal irrigation as part of a show dedicated to various health topics and home remedies.  One of the women he had signed up to try the pot for a month or so demonstrated its proper use and reported a great improvement in what had been a chronic problem for her.
Below you will find a little primer on the role of nasal irrigation in maintaning healthy sinuses and some links you might find useful.

Why nasal irrigation can be helpful.
Unusual build-up of excess mucous in the nasal passages can lead to bacterial infection and breathing discomfort.  While some believe daily cleansing of the nasal passages is a good prophylatic, others warn that normal mucous is beneficial, that over-irrigating can lead to another set of problems.  However during bouts of head cold or any condition in which the sinuses are producing an excess amount of mucous, irrigating the sinuses can be very helpful in restoring a healthy state to lessen the possibility of an all-out infection.

What you need in terms of equipment:
Actually you don't need anything special at all.  According to Wikipedia A simple yet effective technique is to pour salt water solution into one nostril and let it run out through the other while the mouth is kept open to breathe, using gravity as an aid with your head tilted to one side. This is an old yogic technique known as jala neti, and one of the oldest devices used to administer the saline is called a neti pot. (Neti is Sanskrit for "nasal cleansing".  Any suitable, clean vessel would work, but the neti pot is tailored nicely for this use.

Types of Irrigation Devices (some examples)
The Neti Pot:  These little pots have an elongated snout that sits snuggly into one nostril.  Some, like the one pictured here, look a lot like Aladdin's Lantern.  The pots come in all shapes, but the one thing they have in common is the elongated snout..   You can purchase pots made of various materials, but given how plastic can scratch over time creating small grooves where bacteria might thrive, a ceramic or metal pot is considered a better choice.
Plastic Squeeze Bottle:  You can also find various types and brands of squeeze bottles to force salt water into the nasal passages at your local drug store.
Syringe:  Yet another type of product utilizes an oversized syringe with an injector-type plunger in place of the bulb. (1)

Irrigation Solutions: 
Some sources say tap water with salt alone is fine to use however in the news recently at least two people have died from deadly amebas in tap water used in a Neti Pot.  (link to story in Medical News Today)  It is far safer to use only sterile water such as distilled or water that has been boiled.  Still others advocate a mixture of salt and baking soda which acts as a buffering agent.  And there are those who say use non-iodized salt while others say it does not matter.  Through trial and error you will arrive at the perfect solution for yourself if you decide to make your own.  The two essentials are salt and water.   You'll find numerous recipes online and many brands of prepackaged solutions as well. 

Mix Your Own
Mix 1/4 tsp Non Iodized salt and 1/4 tsp baking soda to 8 oz of distilled or purified water.  Keep the solution at room temperature until you are ready to use it.  Some people find it more comfortable to heat the solution very slightly in the microwave, but you must take care not to make it hot.  It should just be tepid.  If you do use the microwave, shake or stir the solution well before you add it into your nasal irrigation system.  You don't want to run into hot spots in the liquid.

For a short video and an alternative recipe visit Neti Pot Info website.

You can purchase small packets of premeasured saline powder or small containers of powder with a small scoop.  This is a more expensive  choice given how easy it is to make your own, but it is premeasured for convenience.  This might be useful for traveling or other times when you're away from home.  Premixed solutions in liquid form are also available but it's hard to imagine why anyone would bother with them.

If you use too much salt, the solution may cause a temporary burning sensation in the sinus, but this discomfort is temporary.  If you experience this kind of discomfort, you may want to adjust your recipe.

Also as mentioned briefly above, some people don't think everyday nasal irrigation is prudent because the sinuses are bathed in a normal amount of mucous to keep them moist and healthy. Cleanse the sinuses only when you have symptoms.

If the water temperature used in the neti pot is too hot or too cold, it could cause discomfort in the nose and sinuses. To test the temperature of the water, splash a few drops on your inner wrist. If it feels cold or hot, it will cause pain or discomfort in your sinuses and/or nostrils. The water should be warm--body temperature.

Keep your Neti Pot or other aids clean.  Wash them out with soap and water after use.   Dry them with a clean cloth before storing.

Improper flushing out the sinuses could result in pressure or discomfort in the ear. The saline solution could also back up into the ear. This fluid in the ear could lead to infection.  That is why it is important to follow the instructions for using your Neti Pot or other device.  You must tilt the head to avoid solution reaching the ears.

Tips to avoid problems:
During the treatment, avoid the urge to swallow. Keep your mouth open and breathe through your mouth for the duration of the Neti Pot treatment.  

To care for your pot correctly, dry it completely after each use with a clean, lint-free cloth. Before each use, sanitize your neti pot with a gentle non-detergent soap (such as Dr. Bronner's organic soap) and white vinegar. Rinse well before filling with the saline solution.

With winter approaching and the colds and sinus problems that often come with the season, we hope you will benefit from this little primer.  And please pass it on if you find it helpful.

Sources and Resources:
Nasal Irrigation, Wikipedia
Neti Pot, Mayo Clinic
The Side Effects of Nasal Irrigation, EHow
Nasal Irrigation Helps Control Sinus Problems, University of Wisconsin

In The News

Read Comments (3)   •    Make a Comment

We would like your feedback. Please comment above about this article and your suggestions for future articles. We ask that all articles are relevant, that common decency prevail, and that any factual statements be verified for accuracy. If you are sending comments on a feature, please reference the title in the subject line. Our goal is to bring useful and interesting features to you in future months.

PHCentral is committed to the expression of diverse opinions from members of the PH Community.

We feel strongly that free and open discussion regarding PH will assist in the generation and the refinement of new and existing ideas. To that end, we provide the opportunity for anyone from the medical and patient communities to submit editorials, letters to the editor or short articles on a PH-related topic. We will be encouraging opposing points of view. Areas may include treatments, causes, advocacy, disability, etc.

Take the Current Poll
View Current Poll Results To Date
View the Poll Archives