Laurie Menk Otto, ND, MPH

Naturopathic Medicine | Portland, Oregon

How to use a saline nasal rinse

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Saline rinses are very effective at relieving allergy symptoms. A nasal rinse is like a shower for the mucous membranes of the nose. It helps to wash away dust and pollen that has accumulated throughout the day, reducing inflammation and allergy symptoms.

How to use a nasal saline rinse: 

Supplies:

  1. Neti pot or other nasal rinse bottle. Even a large needle-less syringe works great if you have one. For kids I recommend using a small 4mL syringe like the type that comes with medications. Kids can control these easily themselves and the volume is better for their size.
  2. 8mL warm water. Use distilled, filtered, or boiled and cooled water, re-warmed.
  3. Nasal saline rinse prepared packets like these or these can be purchased at any pharmacy. You can also make your own at home using 1/8-1/4 tsp sea salt or other non-iodized salt per cup of water.  (Use of iodized salt like Morton’s will cause irritation).

How to use: 
Place neti pot or bottle nozzle at the opening of one nostril and lean forward, tipping your head just slightly to the side to direct the water flow out of the other nostril.

Pour neti or squeeze bottle very gently, just to allow the water to enter the nose and come out the other nostril.

If your nasal passage is blocked and the water does not pass through, don’t worry about it. Just allow the water to enter and exit the same nostril.

Then, change nostrils, pouring in the other side using the same technique.

Tips:

  • When tipping your head to the side, always keep the ear higher than the nose. Gravity will take the water through so you only need a slight head tilt.
  • Do not squeeze hard or use pressure to squeeze the water out of a Neil Med or other squeezable type of bottle. This can cause water to enter the middle ear, which can be very irritating.
  • Adjust the strength of the nasal rinse by adding more or less saline solution, to your comfort level. You should never experience burning or irritation when using a nasal rinse.

Challenge and Solution:

  • “I just need to remember to use it.”
    Set an alarm on your phone for about an hour before you go to bed, or an hour after you typically return home. Leave out the saline rinse setup on the bathroom counter so that you have a visual reminder.
  • “I have to boil water and let it cool each time.”
    Use an electric kettle and turn on for about 20 seconds to warm the water to the right temperature. Alternately, boil a large pot of water and store it in a larger gallon water container, and heat to warm the amount needed for each use.
  • “I’d rather use a nasal spray. It’s much easier.”
    Nasal rinses are more effective than nasal sprays which, even if they contain effective medications, can only spritz the interior nose, leaving much of the tissue untreated. 
  • “I can’t use it twice daily. It’s too hard.”
    Well, OK then. Use it once. It’s better than not at all! 
  • “I always feel like I get water in my ears.”
    See Tips #2 above.
  • “It burns when using the neti pot.”
    Adjust the strength of the saline by adding more or less until you find a comfortable amount for you.
  • “Someone told me that I can get a parasite in my brain when I use a neti pot.”
    Understand that this is a rare occurrence when people have submerged their head in or used a nasal rinse with infected water. However, to escape this risk completely, use filtered water, distilled water, or pre-boiled water. The CDC has full instructions here

Author: Laurie Menk Otto ND

Dr. Laurie Menk Otto is a naturopathic physician at Heart Spring Health, adjunct faculty for Helfgott Research Institute, and holds a master's in public health from the University of Arizona. Contact: 503.956.9396 or dr.laurie@heartspringhealth.com.

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