Nasal irrigation can relieve sinus symptoms safely, cheaply
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Your spring cleaning routine might include vacuuming the coils on your refrigerator and storing bulky sweaters and corduroy pants. You may want to add to that list, according to a University of Michigan Health System expert, another area that could use some cleaning.
Not a pleasant thought, but it’s an important issue for the millions of people who suffer with spring allergies, nasal congestion, stuffy noses and post-nasal drip.
One of the best methods for relieving the symptoms is nasal irrigation, says Melissa Pynnonen, M.D., co-director of the Michigan Sinus Center and assistant professor in the U-M Department of Otolaryngology.
Nasal irrigation refers to rinsing the nose and nasal passages with a solution, typically salt water. The solution can be as simple – and cheap – as a quarter-teaspoon of kosher salt, eight ounces of warm tap water and a quarter-teaspoon of baking soda.
Pynnonen recommends that patients who are new to nasal irrigation use an eight-ounce squeeze bottle, and squirt four ounces of the mixture into each nostril. The solution exits through the opposite nostril. To prevent the solution from coming out of your mouth, Pynnonen recommends that you open your mouth and make a “K” sound, which closes off the mouth and throat.
“It’s like a power washer for your nose,” Pynnonen says.
Other methods include a device called a neti-pot, which resembles a miniature teapot. With this device, water is poured, instead of squeezed, into your nose. Some people use turkey basters or syringes like those used to suction a baby’s nose. All of these methods can work, Pynnonen says.
“For most patients, the benefit of nasal irrigation is that it does a great job of treating symptoms that otherwise aren’t well treated with medicine,” she notes. “Nasal irrigation can be considered a first-line treatment for common nasal and sinus symptoms. It’s often more effective than medications.”
For people with mild allergies, Pynnonen says, nasal irrigations alone may be enough to control the symptoms. Others may need to use medications in addition to nasal irrigation.
Pynnonen recently led a study in which her team found that saline irrigation is very effective at controlling sinus symptoms, more so than saline sprays. “Patients who used nasal irrigation,” she says, “experienced as much improvement as some patients with chronic sinusitis get with sinus surgery.”
Nasal irrigation can be used in children, she says, with a smaller amount of the solution. As long as the child is old enough to cooperate with the treatment, Pynnonen says, it’s safe to try nasal irrigation.