What is a Saline Sinus Wash?

Mary McMahon

A saline sinus wash is a simple procedure which can be used at home to clear out the nose and sinuses. This practice is also known as nasal lavage or nasal irrigation, and it is utilized to remove debris and mucus accumulations from the nose, making it easier to breathe. Saline sinus washes can be used to treat colds, sinus infections, and seasonal allergies, and some people also utilize them as a part of their routine health maintenance practices.

A cross section of the head, including the sinuses.
A cross section of the head, including the sinuses.

In the Ayurvedic medical tradition, nasal irrigation is an important part of daily hygiene, with people cleansing their noses in the morning to get ready for the day. Western doctors have also used this practice for quite some time to clear out the nose, and some doctors may recommend a saline sinus wash to patients struggling with colds, infections, and other problems which involve the nose and surrounding sinus cavities.

A bulb syringe, which can be used to do a saline sinus wash.
A bulb syringe, which can be used to do a saline sinus wash.

There are two ways to perform a saline sinus wash. The first technique involves pouring or squirting water into one nostril and then plugging that nostril and tilting the head so that the water can flow out of the other nostril. The other technique requires tilting the head back after water is squirted into the nose so that the water runs into the throat, in which case the patient will need to spit to clear the throat. In pulsating nasal sinus washes, a pulsating wand is used to deliver jets of water into the nose.

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While the process may sound odd or uncomfortable to people who have not experienced it before, nasal sinus washes do not take very long, and they can bring relief to people struggling with clogged sinuses, or to people who live in polluted environments. A saline sinus wash will usually be accompanied with the generation of a lot of mucus, so it is a good idea to keep a towel handy for the procedure, and some people prefer to do it outside or in the bath tub until they get the hang of it.

Special tools specifically designed for nasal irrigation such as neti pots can be found in many drug stores and health food stores. It is also possible to use bulb syringes, oral syringes, squeeze bottles, or spray bottles to deliver a gentle saline rinse to the nose. The salt solution should ideally be fairly salty, to encourage diffusion of particles and mucus into the saline rinse, and the water should be warm to increase comfort during the procedure.

A saline sinus wash is used to relieve congestion.
A saline sinus wash is used to relieve congestion.

Discussion Comments


I have had frequent nose bleeds (4-5 a day) off and on during allergy season or coldest parts of winter. Usually it is only about 1/2 tsp worth of blood. I have been told that it is most likely from consistent dry environment that this is happening.

A suggestion of saline washes to hydrate the sinus area was suggested since simple things like humidifiers are out of the question. Wouldn't saline eventually dry more than moisten the nasal cavity? And if it is good advice how often is this to be administered and in what way?

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