What Is a Nasal Lavage?

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  • Written By: Allison Boelcke
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 14 January 2020
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A nasal lavage, also commonly referred to as nasal irrigation, is a remedy for treating congestion in the nasal passages or sinuses caused by allergies, colds, or other conditions. Congestion occurs when the nasal passages or the sinuses become inflamed and unable to drain fluid properly. The remedy consists of inserting a saline solution into the nasal passages to help clear out excessive mucus, bacteria, or any other irritants, to help relieve congestion. It can be performed at home, either with the use of a store-bought kit or homemade solution.

Bacterial infections can occur in the nasal passages or sinuses if precautions aren’t taken prior to performing a nasal lavage. If store-bought nasal saline isn’t being used, a mixture of water and salt may be used. It is recommended to use filtered water or boiled tap water before making the solution to sanitize it. If a device is being used to insert the solution into the nose, it should also be thoroughly rinsed in sanitized water to destroy any bacteria, particularly if the device is being reused.


The nasal lavage solution can be inserted into the nasal passage via a special syringe with the bulb at the end, or with a device known as a neti pot. A neti pot is typically ceramic and looks similar to a teapot with a long, thin spout. The lavage process may even be performed without the use of an insertion device, but it is not typically recommended for beginners.

For the nasal lavage solution to effectively cleanse the nasal passages and sinuses, the head needs to be tilted down so the solution flows up into the nose, and then drains back down out of the nose. If the correct head angle is not used, the lavage solution may instead drain into the throat. While the solution is not generally considered dangerous if swallowed, it may not be as effective at loosening excess mucus if it doesn't drain straight back down. If an insertion device isn’t being used, a person can snort the solution directly from a wide container or his or her hands, but this method tends to be more challenging.

A nasal lavage may be performed as often as needed for congestion symptoms to subside. It has not been definitively proven how the remedy works, but it is widely thought that the salt in the solution helps soothe the inflammation of the nasal passages and sinuses and flushes out irritants. Doctors may recommend people who have chronic congestion perform nasal lavages daily as a preventive measure to lessen the occurrence and severity of illness.



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