Congestion is never fun, but it can certainly be managed.
While many people rely on decongestant spray, these products can actually worsen congestion.
In fact, frequent use of nasal sprays can cause rebound congestion and rhinitis medicamentosa, a serious inflammatory condition.
Thankfully, there are many healthier and more effective treatment options available.
What’s Nasal Irrigation?
Nasal irrigation occurs when you flush out contaminants from your nasal passages.
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The nasal passages come equipped with tiny, hair-like structures called cilia, which beat back and forth to catch dirt, bacteria, viruses, and other unwelcome substances (2). These structure also exist in your ears and along your respiratory tract (3).
“It is a defense mechanism that your body has,” explains Evangeline Lausier, MD, assistant clinical professor of medicine and director of clinical services at Duke University’s department of integrative medicine.
“The cilia beat and the mucus acts kind of like flypaper, catching spores and particles you inhale.” (2).
These particles are either pushed through the throat and into the stomach, where stomach acid destroys them, or out the nose.
However, when membranes in your nose and upper respiratory tract swell and get inflamed from allergies or an infection, cilia can’t do their job (4).
“What happens with sinus problems or allergies is the consistency of the mucus changes, so that it’s harder to beat, or harder to move, or thicker,” explains Lausier (2).
The Neti Pot
The Neti pot originated from Ayurvedic medicine and has been used for thousands of years (5).
It works by flushing out the nasal canal of bacteria or irritants and thinning out mucus. This in turn improves the coordination of the cilia (2).
“It works best to relieve symptoms of dry mucus, thick mucus, and crusty mucus.” says Melissa Pynnonen, MD, associate professor of otolaryngology at the University of Michigan.
“I find it to be the first line of defense in dealing with complicated sinus problems and allergy problems,” says Evangeline Lausier, MD, assistant clinical professor of medicine and director of clinical services at Duke University’s department of integrative medicine.
“Particularly if you are developing congestion or have a sinus infection, it’s very helpful.” (2).
It works so well that one study showed that people with chronic sinus problems who used nasal irrigation were able to use fewer medications (4).
Although it’s considered safe and non-invasive, some people it may experience headache and nosebleed from frequent neti pot use. That’s why it’s important clean and well and to avoid using it more than 3 times a week and no more than once a day. In between uses, there are many other home remedies for congestion you can try.
How To Use
Most drug stores sell a saline solution to go along with the neti pot, but you can easily make your own. Also, feel free to use a simple squirt bottle or miniature teapot instead of the brand-name product.
All you need is 2 teaspoons of sea salt and ½ cup of hot water. Boil the water for 3-5 minutes and stir in the salt, making sure that it’s fully dissolved. Let it cool and pour half the solution into your neti pot.
To use the pot, lean over the sink with your head tilted at a 45-degree angle. Keeping your mouth open, slowly pour the water into your top nostril and let it flow out the bottom nostril. You may notice some debris in your sink and the sensation of irrigation may take a little getting used to.
Pour the remainder of the solution into your pot and repeat the process whilst tilting your head in the opposite direction to clear out your other nostril.
The salt water will restore moisture and ease inflammation of the mucous membranes (4).
When you’re done, wash your pot with boiled water and let it air dry completely before using it again.