If you're one of the many people dealing with chronic sinus problems, you will know how miserable the headaches, facial pain, and clogged nasal passages can be. In their search for relief, many sinus sufferers have turned to nasal saline irrigation, a therapy that uses a salt and water solution to flush out the nasal cavity.
Although several methods of nasal irrigation exist, one of the most popular is the Neti pot - a ceramic pot that looks like a cross between a small teapot and Aladdin's magic lamp. Nasal irrigation using the Neti pot has been around for centuries, and originally comes from the Ayurvedic/yoga medical tradition.
Does the Neti pot really work?
Ear, nose, and throat surgeons recommend nasal irrigation for their patients who've undergone sinus surgery, to clear away crusting in the nasal passages. Many patients with chronic sinus symptoms from bacterial infections, allergies, and environmental irritants also regularly use the Neti pot or other nasal irrigation devices, claiming that these devices alleviate congestion, facial pain and pressure, and reduce the need for antibiotics and nasal sprays. Research backs up these claims, finding that nasal irrigation can be an effective way to relieve sinus symptoms when used along with standard sinus treatments.
The basic explanation of how the Neti pot works is that it thins mucus to help flush it out of the nasal passages.
A more biological explanation involves the tiny, hair-like structures called cilia that line the inside of the nasal and sinus cavities. These cilia wave back and forth to push mucus either to the back of the throat where it can be swallowed, or to the nose to be blown out.
Experts say chronic sinus problems cause the cilia to beat in a slow and uncoordinated way.
Saline solution can help increase the speed and improve coordination of the cilia so that they may more effectively remove the bacteria, allergens, and other irritants that cause sinus problems.
How do you use the Neti pot?
There aren't any official medical guidelines, but Neti pots usually come with an insert that explains how to use them. You might also want to ask your GP or an ear, nose, and throat specialist to talk you through the process so you can get comfortable with the Neti pot before trying it on your own.
The NHS doesn't specifically recommend Neti pots, but says you can lubricate and rinse your nose using a saline solution using a small syringe or Neti pot.
To make the solution, it says to mix half a teaspoon of salt in 220ml (8oz) of lukewarm water. Advice from health officials in the US recommends using sterile or water that's been boiled and allowed to cool to avoid possible contamination.
Once you've filled the Neti pot, tilt your head over the sink at about a 45-degree angle. Place the spout into your top nostril, and gently pour the saline solution into that nostril.
The fluid will flow through your nasal cavity and into the other nostril. It may also run into your throat. If this occurs, just spit it out. Blow your nose to get rid of any remaining liquid, then refill the Neti pot and repeat the process on the other side.