If you live with chronic sinus issues, you will be very familiar with consistent facial pain, clogged nasal passages, and a sticky throat. Allergies are another common complaint, which bring sneezing, itchy eyes and a runny nose. You may have frequent coughing or headaches associated with these conditions. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology estimates that more than 35 million Americans have allergies, and 28.5 million cases of sinusitis are diagnosed yearly.
Since it’s only natural to seek relief from these chronic conditions, you might have experimented with any number of home remedies, over-the-counter medications, or even prescription drugs.
If you would like to try a natural and highly effective alternative, you might find a clue from a few thousand years back in time. Sinus irrigation may well be what our ancestors used to relieve their illnesses and discomforts.
There are several methods of sinus irrigation, but the neti pot is the most popular. This small pot looks a little like the one a genie would come out of, but in this case it contains a salt and water solution. This simple remedy comes from an ancient Ayurvedic tradition.
Ayurveda is the time-honored Hindu system of medicine that is based on creating balance within the body with nutrition, herbal medicine and yogic breathing. The name Ayurveda comes from the Sanskrit words for “life” and “knowledge” and represents an approach to holistic health that has been around for at least 5,000 years. Since people are still using neti pots to naturally treat sinus problems today, it seems that this strange practice must have something to it.
Using a neti pot may be a healthier allergy solution
Nasal irrigation offers a more natural and health-conscious solution to conventional allergy, cold and sinus medications, which may come with a range of side effects. They may have cross-reactions with many other medications and can cause issues such as drowsiness, insomnia, increased blood pressure, nosebleeds, emotional alteration and even addiction. They are usually unsafe for children, pregnant women and the elderly.
While we tend to recommend sticking with natural remedies and only resorting to medication when it’s really needed, you could also investigate the potential root causes of chronic sinus issues so that you may address those while you seek relief with comfort measures.
Conversely to conventional treatments, the neti pot is very safe if used properly. It is an affordable solution that you can do at home in just a few minutes. Once you have established a neti pot routine that suits your needs, you can safely use it a few times a week to prevent the recurrence of sinus or allergy issues.
How does the neti pot work?
Essentially, the neti pot is used to flush saline water through the sinuses. The simple mechanism of the water moving through the nasal passage pushes mucus through, while the salt helps to cleanse the environment to prevent excess bacterial growth or infection.
While the saline solution is washing through, it improves the motion of the cilia, which are tiny hair-like structures lining the inside of the nasal and sinus cavities. The cilia work to move mucus either into the throat where it can be swallowed, or into the nose where it can be blown out. Cilia also transport allergens, dust, viruses and bacteria out of the passages.
Sinus inflammation or heavy mucus can impair the action of the cilia and result in blockages and pressure. Washing the sinuses with salt water can help clear the cilia and move the mucus out of the system to relieve symptoms, speed recovery, and prevent future issues. It can stop allergens and disease-causing agents from becoming established in the sinus passages, so that allergies, colds and sinus headaches can often be prevented.
How to buy, prepare and use a neti pot
This is where things get interesting. Using a neti pot for the first time is a unique experience since water enters one nostril and comes out of the other, complete with the mucus that was previously lodged in your sinuses. This can only be described as a curious sensation with an equally intriguing and disgusting result.
First things first: How to choose the best neti pot to buy? Durability and sanitation, as well as ease of use, are important considerations when choosing a product. Neti pots come in various materials, including plastic, ceramic, copper and stainless steel.
Many users find a plastic neti pot is the most comfortable, especially when first starting the practice. It is also lightweight, easy to transport, and resistant to breakage. However, plastic is not dishwasher safe, so other means must be employed in order to ensure the pot gets properly cleaned and sanitized. Plastic pots must be very well scrubbed with soap after each use, and left to air dry.
Perhaps the best neti pot material for those who are more comfortable is stainless steel, since it is safe to clean in the dishwasher and resists breakage and rust.
Whichever material you choose, it is vital to clean it properly. Boiling your neti pot in water for a few minutes is a smart way to ensure you don’t introduce any unwanted pathogens into your sinus cavities.
Not only should the pot itself be sterile, but you must prepare or purchase the appropriate water to use in the neti pot. Bottled distilled water is a good choice, or you can boil tap water and then let it cool. Filtered water can also be used if the filter has a pore size of one micron.
To prepare the rinsing solution, your sterile water should be at a comfortable body temperature. A good way to test the temperature is to touch it to your lips or wrist. Take four cups of water and add 2 teaspoons of salt. This will create a saltwater solution that is similar to the natural levels in the human body. It is important to use a finely ground natural salt that will dissolve fully. Sea salt is a safe choice. Some people like to add baking soda to the mixture as well, since it may make the rinsing process more comfortable. If you would like to try this addition, just add 1 teaspoon of baking soda to your 4 cups of liquid.
When the solution is ready, fill the pot and stand either in the bathtub or shower, or over the sink. You may want to observe the process in the mirror for the first time! Have the remaining solution ready nearby so that you can refill the pot.
Tilt your head sideways and insert the spout fully but comfortably into the upper nostril. Open your mouth and breathe out in a relaxed fashion as the liquid releases into the nostril. It will trickle through the sinuses and start to exit via the lower nostril.
Users say that the feeling is not as uncomfortable as you might expect, since it is still possible to continue breathing through the mouth while the fluid is running through the sinuses.
Relaxing and breathing deeply is helpful, as is tipping the pot gently and gradually, rather than pouring the liquid at a fast pace.
Experimenting with the angle of your head and neti pot will alter the sensation and prevent water from entering the throat. If any does end up in your throat, simply spit it out.
After passing half of the solution through the upper nostril, stand upright and very gently blow your nose. Using force when blowing the nose after irrigation can push fluid into the ear canals, which can be uncomfortable.
Use the other half of the solution to irrigate from the other side, then stand up and blow gently again. Keep in mind that fluid might continue to leak from the nostrils for a short time after completing the process, so it would be wise to avoid going out into a public place immediately afterward!
It is safe to use your neti pot daily for acute conditions, or a few times a week for prevention.
Neti pot side effects and warnings
About 10 percent of regular neti pot users find that it causes mild irritation and stinging.
There have also been cases of infections from inadequately cleaned neti pots or unsterilized water, which can harbor bacteria. It is very important to use distilled or boiled and cooled water, and ensure the pot is sterilized via boiling.
Now that you know all about the science, process and safety precautions, it’s time to work up the courage to give your neti pot a try! Many people have had success with preventing issues that previously occurred on a chronic basis. Also, check out these other natural sinus remedies that you can try at home
Liivi is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and is training to become a doula. She inspires women to find peace and personal power by taking control of health and fertility naturally. Liivi‘spassion is ancestral nutrition and primal lifestyle design. She and her partner Will live between Toronto, Canada and Queenstown, New Zealand.