In allergy season, flush, don’t sneeze

March 9, 2017 Allison Milionis

Three cheers to spring being only a couple weeks away. Two thumbs down for the pollen storms it brings. Chances are most people will have some kind of reaction to the allergen flurries at some time during spring and summer. If it’s not the pollen from leafy trees that gets to you, it might be the grasses or weeds.

Neti pots are incredibly effective at relieving the worst symptoms of seasonal allergies. A good sinus rinse can flush out a fair amount of the airborne stuff that collects in your nasal passages. That’s the stuff that can make you sneezy, stuffy, headachy and uncomfortable. Using a neti pot, a small teapot-like vessel with a long spout, also helps remove dried mucus, reduces inflammation and relieves sinus maladies, such as allergic rhinitis and chronic sinusitis.

Malea MacOdrum, naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, Ore., recommends her patients use a neti pot or saline nasal spray for all these conditions. She says her patients have had positive experiences and found relief.

Three rules to follow

Flushing out your sinuses is safe, but there are a few rules. To start, don’t use plain tap water. Some tap water contains low levels of bacteria and protozoa, which are safe to drink because your stomach acid kills them. Left in your nose, however, these hearty organisms know how to thrive. They can cause infection and, in rare cases, they can be fatal.

Dr. MacOdrum says that shouldn’t deter you from using tap water. Boiling it for 3 - 5 minutes will destroy the bad stuff. Ideally, you should use distilled or sterile water. You can find distilled water at most grocery stores or pharmacies.

The second rule is to use small-grain salt. (Salt is what makes the water saline.) It doesn’t have to be fancy; iodized table salt is best. The key is to make sure it’s completely dissolved before using the solution.

The third rule is to keep your neti pot clean. Wash it in hot water and mild soap after each use. Most models can be put in the dishwasher, or Dr. MacOdrum also recommends boiling it in a pot for a few minutes. Dry the inside of your pot completely with a paper towel or let it air dry between uses.

If you have a plastic neti pot, check the cleaning instructions as the pot may not be dishwasher safe.

The neti pot formula

Dr. MacOdrum recommends her patients use this formula:

Dissolve ¼ teaspoon salt in one cup of warm or room temperature water for flushing out allergens and mucus and for adding moisture to the sinuses.

Dissolve ½ teaspoon salt in one cup of warm or room temperature water to draw fluid and inflammation out of the nasal membrane. This will help relieve stuffiness. The saltier solution might sting a little. If you’re worried about discomfort, start with a ¼ teaspoon of salt and work your way up.

Not using enough salt can also pose a problem, however. Dr. MacOdrum explains that a lack of sufficient salt in the water may force the fluid into the nasal membranes. The effect is swelling and congestion – the exact opposite of what you want to achieve.

You got this

A little fuzzy on how it works? Imagine your sinus cavity as a u-shaped cave with an entrance and an exit. When you pour your saline from the neti pot in one nostril, it flows into the sinus cavity and then exits the other nostril.

Angling your head so it’s perpendicular to the floor ensures the water and debris washes out the exit nostril and into the sink. Breathe through your open mouth. If the water trickles down your throat rather than out the exit nostril, change the angle of your head slightly.

Using a neti pot when you’re stuffy is okay; however, if you can’t breathe out of your nostrils, don’t try to irrigate your sinuses. Dr. MacOdrum suggests taking a steam shower to help open your nasal passageways first.

Other ways to irrigate

If you’re a little jittery about the homemade saline solution or if you’re traveling and don’t have a neti pot with you, buy a pulsating or squeeze bottle nasal irrigator with prepackaged saline rinse. Just pour the contents into the bottle, and you’re good to go.

Can kids use a neti pot?

Absolutely. Kids with allergies also benefit from nasal irrigation. If they run the other direction at the sight of a neti pot, try a different type of nasal rinsing device. There a quite a few over-the-counter options for kids.

A nasal aspirator, or snotsucker, is more suitable for babies and small children.

If you have questions about seasonal allergies or using a neti pot to get relief, ask your health care provider. If you have nasal polyps or recently had sinus surgery, talk to your provider before using a neti pot or saline nasal spray.

Have you used a neti pot to help manage your seasonal allergy symptoms? How does it work for you? Tell us in the comment section below.

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