When I first started using a neti pot back in the 1990s. to rinse my sinuses (what professionals refer to as ‘nasal irrigation”) friends just shook their head. Bill Clinton was President ending the long era of conservative fear mongering and free-marketeering. Or so we thought. Neti pots weren’t available at Walgreen’s or Wal-Mart.
These days things have certainly changed. Not only has that conservative abberation become a permanent part of the body politic, but neti pots are sold at Walgreens and Wal-Mart and lots of my friends are raving about their new favorite snack: kale chips. But that’s another story.
Spring is here and I’m feeling it. Not in my loins (that usually happens after I file my taxes April 15) but in my nostrils. For almost as long as I’ve been using a neti pot, the allergy that plagued me has had an off again, on again romance with that headstrong mistress, the OTC drug Claritin-D. Don’t tell my neti pot, its supposed to be all I need.
Plus the neti is honest, unassuming and modest. Claritin is a braggart, with subway and TV ads featuring sexy and happy people picnicing or dancing in a field of blooming flowers. But wait, they look happy, full of energy and vim, absent any sneezy and wheezy side effects of April showers and spring flowers. It’s because they’re CLARITIN CLEAR. Yeah believe that and I got this bridge that I think you’re gonna love. Cash down and we can finance the rest.
Seems that either my herbal and homeopathic regimens didn’t work or maybe it was my inability to stay away from the lure of the water pipe that’s causing havoc in my nostrils. I’ve given up half and half in my coffee and most of the ice cream I eat these days is dairy-free, made with coconut milk or soy.
My battle with allergies and asthma was what got me into taking supplements, avoiding dairy and wheat and eating healthier less processed foods. But even giving up dairy and using the neti pot doesn’t always work.
I’m a flexitarian at heart. Tofu today, hamburger tomorrow. No rigid agenda here. So if you’ve got problems with allergies and you’re on this site, you’re clearly used to figuring out ways to take care of yourself.
But if you’ve never thought of flushing your your nostrils like you clean a dirty sink read on.
ALL EMPLOYEES MUST WASH SINUSES
Nasal irrigation is a great old-fashioned technique that once the “uggh, hell no” reflexive reaction subsides, makes common sense. It is a little annoying at first but baby it works wonders. Nasal rinsing your sneezy little snifflers can do wonders.
Rinsing with a saline or an herbal solution flushes out trapped mucous that clog the nasal lining and stimulates the cleansing power of the mucous membranes. Daily washing for two to three months can greatly reduce chronic sinus infections, allergy related congestion and other nasty, nasal nuisances.
Now in case you're ready to rush into the bathroom and put your nostrils under the faucet, don’t. This self-treatment is safe and effective, but no matter how clean you’re drinking water is, be sure to use distilled water only.
And of course, chronic problems do require the care of a health professional.
While there is disagreement, some research has indicated that prolonged nasal irrigation may alter the immunological balance of the nasal mucousa and increase sinus infections. Again the scientific evidence is very mixed. I suggest that you do your own research. Talking to your Doctor might help too, but remember asking MDs about alternative therapies is sometimes like asking a Northern California seal about where to find a good Italian restaurant in San Francisco. They may know the area, but there expertise may be limited.
TIME FOR A NEW HOME APPLIANCE; SORRY THEY DON’T COME IN CHROME
Two "appliances" can make washing your nostrils easier than washing that man right out of your hair.
Glass nasal douches (or irrigators), rubber sinus bulbs and neti, or nasal pots are now commonly available. Regardless of your choice of "weapon," the guidelines are the same. For chronic sinus problems wash twice daily. As stated before, use clean, distilled water.
A nasal irrigator (or douche) washes water down one nostril right into your mouth. Spit it out and you're done. Pretty simple. A nasal pot is what I prefer, though I’m versatile. Bend over, tilt your head to the side, pour water into one nostril and wait until it comes out of the other one. If using a nasal bulb, the same bend and tilt rules apply. The bulb allows greater pressure but be gentle and don't squeeze too hard
Dissolve one teaspoon of salt per cup of water for your rinsing. Use warm, tepid water. If you experience a sharp stinging with even the smaller amount of salt, rinse with plain water and over time add salt.
I'M GONNA WASH THAT MUCOUS RIGHT OUTTA MY NOSE
If your sinuses are backed up more than the freeway during rush hour, good old H2O may not flow through the sinuses. Keep up the rinsing and as the accumulated mucous dissolves, water will begin to flow more freely.
Again, this might feel uncomfortable but pain is not part of the protocol. If so, talk to a health practicioner. This isn’t about force its merely about gravity. One other important point is that if you are experiencing an ear infection or feel strange sensations in your ear while rinsing (a sign of a probable ear infection) don't irrigate, but instead talk to your Doctor. (Do I sound like your mother?)
When I first tried I ended up muttering to myself "this sucks," gasping and hacking after that salty mix went right down my throat. After a few tries it got better and now I rinse regularly.
And remember that the ridicule of your loved ones or roommates as you flush salt water down your nose is something to be proud of. You're a free thinker. But don't forget: wash out the sink when you're finished.
Remember you might be so congested that the water won't flow through your nose. So be patient, keep washing and the results will appear.
PARSLEY, SAGE, ROSEMARY AND TEA TREE
Joani Keim Loughran, author of many books on the healing power of aromatherapy, recommends a variation on the nasal theme. Mix equal parts of baking soda and pure sea salt and store in a cool dry place. Add 1 teaspoon of this solution to one cup of water and flush. She recommends one cup of solution for each nostril, and rinsing up to three times a day during periods of infection.
Additionally Loughran recommends adding herbs to your nasal wash. Use one drop of either tea tree oil or rosemary verbenone.
If you can't find rosemary verbenone, red thyme oil is also a good choice. Loughran, however, prefers the verbenone variety of rosemary because it is gentler and just as effective. Regardless of your choice, it's important to remember that essential oil is strong and your mucous membranes are sensitive so only use one drop. More isn't better in this case, it is worse.
IF YOU WON'T WASH IT STEAM IT
If you're still not convinced about washing your sinuses, try this simple remedy - some steam up your nose. The addition of some eucalyptus, red thyme or rosemary verbenone can also aid your battle against snotty sinus woes. Keep your eyes closed when breathing in that steam folks, and feel those sinuses breath a sigh of relief. Of course common sense requires that you keep a proper distance away from the steam, in order to avoid burns.
Some parts of this column first appeared in a column written for the now defunct website Fidget Wellness.