If you're one of many people who sneeze through allergy season or suffer bouts of clogged sinuses, you may wonder if your nasal passages are really worth the trouble. Sure, you get a few good smells every once in a while, but does that really justify all the pain, sniffling and ickiness?
Although most of us would rather not think about the inner working of our nose, people with nasal and sinus trouble will go to extreme lengths to clear those inner workings. There's no other way to explain the popularity of neti pots, teapot-shaped devices that let users pour water into one nostril until it flows out the other.
Neti pots are sold at drugstores and grocery stores everywhere. For about $15, you can buy a plastic SinuCleanse neti pot from Med-Systems that comes with 30 "saline packets" that contain a mixture of salt and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). You can get 100 refill packets for about $10. Users are instructed to mix one packet with 4 ounces of lukewarm water.
The NasaFlo neti pot from NeilMed Pharmaceuticals is available in plastic and porcelain models. Each costs about $15 and comes with 50 saline packets. The instructions tell users to mix a packet with 8 ounces of warm water that is distilled, filtered or previously boiled.
With each product, users are told to stick the spout in one nostril, tip their heads to the side and lift the pot handle upward so that the water flows through the nasal cavities and out the other nostril. After the pot is empty, users are told to repeat the process starting on the other side of the nose. (Although it's not a stated requirement, the instructional videos suggest that users tend to smile broadly throughout the process.)
Both companies also make nasal-washing squirt bottles that work on similar principles.
Claims: The SinuCleanse website says that its nasal rinse is an "effective, all-natural way to cleanse the nose and help control sinus and nasal symptoms over time." Users are promised relief from allergies, nasal congestion, sinus infection and post-nasal drip. Robert Hale, marketing director for Med-Systems, says that the SinuCleanse neti pot can be especially helpful for preventing colds and the flu. "From a marketing perspective, we can say that there may be some benefit to using it every day," he adds.
The NasaFlo website says that the neti pot can "clean allergens, irritants, bacteria and viruses from the nose, reducing the frequency of infections."
The bottom line: As strange as they may seem to the uninitiated, neti pots really can help clean up nasal passages and relieve a host of nose-related problems, says Dr. Jordan Josephson, director of the New York Nasal and Sinus Center in New York City and author of the 2006 book "Sinus Relief Now." "The sinuses weren't built to deal with what we have in our environment," he says. In his opinion, washing or "irrigating" the nose should be as routine as brushing teeth. He says he washes out his nose twice a day, largely to protect himself from colds and flu. "I've got people coughing around me all day."
Nasal rinses can be especially helpful for people who suffer from seasonal allergies or lingering sinus infections, says Dr. David Rabago, an assistant professor in the department of family medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison. "People say they feel better right away," he says.
Rabago has put nasal washing to the test in a series of clinical trials. A 2002 study of 76 people with either sinus infections or sinus infections combined with allergies found that those who rinsed their nasal passages every day for six months had fewer symptoms and used fewer antibiotics and nose sprays.
In a follow-up study, researchers encouraged all of the subjects to do a nasal wash as often as they wanted for 12 months. Subjects ended up rinsing an average of three times a week. And whether they followed a schedule or only rinsed when their sinuses felt clogged and painful, a stream of water through the nostrils did seem to help keep their symptoms in check.
Once they have a neti pot or a squirt bottle that works for them, patients can make their own saline solution by combining one teaspoon of kosher salt and a half teaspoon of baking soda with a pint of lukewarm tap water, Rabago says. But if patients prefer the convenience of ready-made saline packets, that's fine by him.
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