Washing away allergy irritants

6/13/2019 by Joy Fladager Muth, APRN, CNP

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For allergy, cold and sinus-problem sufferers, a stuffy nose is one of the most annoying and uncomfortable symptoms. But a simple, low-risk, inexpensive technique helps wash away the pollen, dirt, mucus and other irritants that can cause nasal congestion. 

It's called a nasal saltwater wash, which rinses and moisturizes tissues, helping keep nasal passages open. Research shows that patients who do it routinely two or three times a week can relieve or even prevent congestion. 

Here's how it works: 

  • Start with a nasal saltwater solution that you buy or make. It's available over the counter premixed or in premeasured packets. To make your own solution, use distilled or sterilized water or boil tap water for three to five minutes. Measure out one cup and set aside to cool until lukewarm. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon non-iodized salt, such as sea salt, and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda until they dissolve in the warm water. 
  • Pour the solution into a plastic nasal wash bottle or Neti Pot, which looks like a mini teapot. Lean over the sink, and tilt your head so your chin and nose are at the same level. Pour the solution in the upper nostril, letting it run out the lower one. Turn your head and do the other side. Repeat until all the solution is gone or until your nose feels clearer. 
  • Another option is to do the saline wash while you're taking a shower. 
  • Be sure to wash the bottle or Neti Pot after use and let it air dry. 
  • To see the technique, check out this video. 

When first starting, do the nasal saltwater wash every day for two to four weeks, since if you're really congested, it may take time to clear your nasal passages. Then reduce to a couple times a week as a preventive treatment or just when you feel you need it. At first, the sensation can feel strange, but it's not like jumping in a pool and getting a nose full or water!

There are few side effects to a nasal saltwater wash, but plenty of benefits. It's low cost, easy to do, won't cause nasal irritation and may even make your nasal spray work better. Give it a try and breathe easier. 

Joy Fladager Muth, APRN, CNP, is a primary care pediatric nurse practitioner with Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (CPAM). She serves as a member on the ECH chronic disease asthma subgroup and is one of four pediatric providers who are Integrated Community Specialists (ICS). In her ICS role. Joy provides expert asthma care and consulting services for ECH pediatric patients with asthma in collaboration with Mayo's Pediatric Pulmonology and Pediatric Allergy specialty providers.