Allergy Relief: Is Nasal Irrigation the Cure?
Nasal Rinse Options
Dangers of Nasal Rinses
While any search for "Neti Pot" will yield results for "Death from Neti Pots," according to the Centers for Disease Control, you are much more likely to get infected by N. Fowleri from going swimming in fresh water or hot springs. In fact, between 1937 - 2007, there were only 121 cases of infection reported world-wide.
In a nutshell, boil your tap water before using it to rinse. You have just as much chance dying from the brain-eating amoeba from sticking your head underwater in the bath as rinsing your nose with a neti pot. You have a whole lot higher chance of getting infected if you go swimming.
Stuffy noses can be helped without drugs.
All of my life I've been plagued by asthma and severe allergies. Three times in my life I've gone through the whole battery of testing at the allergist's office followed by shots of serum to build up tolerances to seemingly everything.
Basically, I react to almost any natural environmental trigger from dust and pollen to dander and cut grass. Everything they test me for, except foods, I react to; sometimes severely.
Needless to say, I've had stuffy noses, itchy eyes, and sinus headaches throughout my life. It was only after the last round of visits to the allergist that my GP finally pointed out that the serum treatments generally have low success rates. I decided to quit torturing myself and quit getting injections.
The one thing I got from my allergist is a daily routine of rinsing my sinuses. It has been the best thing that I have ever done to help me breathe.
History of Nasal Rinses
The traditional nasal rinse is with a Neti Pot. It's a treatment that dates back to the Ayurvedic system of traditional medicine from India. While many of the Ayurvedic treatments have been shown to be quite dangerous, a Neti Pot or other type of nasal irrigation system--when used correctly--is quite safe and beneficial.
The Muslim hygienic practices known as Wudu also contain a simple rinse: simply inhaling water from your cupped hands and then blowing it out.
Modern Medical Usage
Allergists and General Practitioners are recommending rinses for their patients with chronic sinusitis on a regular basis. It's the simplest method to remove the dust and allergens that get trapped in the cilia and mucus membranes within the nose and sinus cavity. While there are many types of Neti Pots and Sinus Rinse products on the market, ranging from traditional ceramic pots to surgical grade plastic, my preferred method is the NeilMed Sinus Rinse.
NeilMed is what my allergist recommended. They offer both a Neti Pot or a Sinus Rinse bottle. NeilMed's research indicates that the high-volume, low-pressure method of their Sinus Rinse is more effective than the gravity flow method offered by a Neti Pot.
The minor symptoms I experienced when first performing nasal irrigation were minor headaches and increased nasal pressure. Basically, it took a week or two for the irrigation to cleanse all of the mucus that was built up in my sinus cavities and clear my nasal passages. Once that period was over, the only annoying problem I've experienced is the rinse water dribbling out of my head for an hour or two after rinsing. Gross, yes, but the results are worth the dribblyness.
While you can use household ingredients to make your own rinses with, it can be dangerous. Iodine, found in normal table salt, can trigger allergic reactions. More importantly, using unboiled water is potentially fatal. While there have been few reported cases world-wide, there have been two recent cases in Louisiana where people died from the "brain-eating amoeba," naegleria fowleri, after using unboiled tap water in their Neti Pots.
The safest method is to use a product from your local pharmacy. I prefer NeilMed's Sinus Rinse. It's available at most major pharmacies. I follow the instructions laid out in the booklet--using bottled water, rinsing my bottle after each use, allowing it to air dry, and changing my bottle regularly--and have experienced no problems. You should not rinse if your sinuses are completely clogged. I also heed the precautions. I recommend that you consult your doctor before beginning any medical treatment--over the counter or otherwise.
How Exactly Does it Work?
The warm saline solution (salt water) flushes excess mucus out of the sinus cavity and nose. The salt actually causes swollen mucus membranes to contract, making it easier to breathe. If you use a nasal steroid, rinsing makes a perfect prelude to using your steroid. Combining rinsing with your existing allergy relief program is a great way to find long-lasting relief. It may not work for you, but if your allergies are as bad as mine, anything is worth a shot.