More frequently, doctors are recommending sinus rinsing, also called sinus irrigation, to help alleviate allergy symptoms. At first, the idea of putting salty water up your nose might sound daunting. But for many people with allergies, once they try and get accustomed to sinus rinsing, they find it really helps.
How Sinus Rinsing Works
Both seasonal and year-round allergies begin when an offending substance, such as pollens, pet dander, mold or spores, finds a passage into your body. Oftentimes, that’s your nostrils. By running homemade saltwater or a pre-made saline solution through your nasal passages, sinus rinsing physically flushes out those allergens, reducing the load on your system. You should not use plain water because it has a different pH than your body and will feel irritating.
Along with expelling allergens, sinus rinsing also clears out any mucus that may have built up in your nostrils and sinuses. You want to get rid of this mucus so it doesn’t stagnate and harbor bacteria. For this reason, sinus rinsing can also be a big help when you feel a cold coming on. Even if you don’t have allergies, if you have frequent sinus infections, rinsing can help keep the mucus flowing out so there is less chance of bacteria overgrowing inside the sinuses.
Time-Tested Rinsing Regimen
A tried-and-true method of sinus rinsing, lauded by yogis for centuries, is a using a neti pot. Neti pots are small ceramic or plastic containers that hold fluids in their base and have a long, thin spout (think a mini teapot or Aladdin’s lamp). Most drugstores now sell neti pots, and you can easily find them online.
They often come with a premixed saline solution, but if not, making your own is simple. Mix ½ to 1 teaspoon of finely ground kosher or sea salt (avoid iodized and flavor-infused salts and any with added aluminum or silicone) with 16 ounces of either distilled or boiled tap water. Some people like adding ½ teaspoon of baking soda to lessen the salt’s slight sting. Seal and store the solution at room temperature.
Your first few tries with a neti pot may get a little messy, so consider starting in the shower as you’re getting the hang of it. Or at least hover over a sink or large bowl that can catch any water that trickles out of your nose or down your face.
When you’re ready, warm the solution to about body temperature and add it to the pot. Lean over with your head tilted sideways so your face is horizontal, and insert the spout fully into your upper nostril so water doesn’t leak out of that side. Open your mouth and breathe deeply while gently pouring in half of the solution. Do your best to relax—this may feel awkward at first—and wait a few seconds until the water streams out your lower nostril. Some might drain into your throat, but don’t worry; just spit it out and keep going.
When you’re finished with your first nostril, stand up slowly and blow your nose very gently to clear it. Now bend over again, tilt your head in the other direction and repeat for the second nostril. Finally, stand up and give your nose a final—gentle—blow so you don’t drive any lingering solution farther up into your sinuses. That’s it! Just rinse out and air-dry your neti pot so it’s ready to go next time.
There are no set rules for when or how often you should use a neti pot, although many allergy sufferers do it daily, sometimes both morning and evening. Getting on a consistent schedule during allergy season may give you the best shot at stifling your systems before they start.
Not Into Neti?
Some people just don’t like the idea of a neti pot. That’s OK because saline solution sprays sold at drugstores can work very well, too. With these remedies, you stand upright and shoot the solution up into your nostrils to flush out allergens and mucus. These are much more convenient and easier to use throughout the day as needed, even at work. Keep a spray in your desk drawer or the glove compartment of your car for easy access. You still might want to administer a spray in your office or the bathroom versus the boardroom, though, since you’ll likely have some drainage and need to blow your nose afterward.
Aerosol cans of saline solution are a good portable option because there's no chance mucus will get pulled back into the container. Carry one in a hiking pack or purse. If used within five minutes of encountering a strong allergen, you can head off your body’s allergic response. Take it on your hike, or when you might encounter perfume, smoke or other irritants.
Although sinus rinsing is a great way to respond to your body’s allergic reactions, it’s a temporarily solution. If you’re using a neti pot or sinus rinse year-round, consider long-term allergy treatments. Cortisone nasal sprays work to reduce your body’s overall response to allergens. They don’t work immediately, but if used correctly, they can calm the allergic response and bring real, lasting relief.