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What is Saline Nasal Irrigation?

By Bethany Keene
Updated May 17, 2024
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Saline nasal irrigation is the process of using warm salt water to cleanse the nasal passages. This practice can help improve the senses of smell and taste, improve breathing, and reduce congestion from persistent sinus problems, allergies, or illness. Many people practice saline nasal irrigation as part of their daily hygienic routine, similar to brushing teeth. Saline spray is also a type of nasal cleansing, but is not generally referred to as nasal irrigation.

One of the best and most commonly used ways to practice saline nasal irrigation is through the use of a neti pot. "Neti" refers to the Yogic practice of nasal wash that has been taking place in India for centuries, known as Jala Neti. Neti pots are small vessels that generally have a handle on one side and a narrow spout on the other. Neti pots can be made out of plastic, ceramic, or glass, among other materials.

To practice saline nasal irrigation, the saline mixture of salt and water is mixed in the pot. Each neti pot will come with specific instructions on the amount of salt that should be used. The pot should then be filled with warm water, as close to body temperature as possible. Water that is too hot or too cold can cause irritation, and even increase congestion. Mix the salt and warm water together thoroughly, and the mixture will be ready.

To use the neti pot, insert the spout into one nostril, lean forward over a sink and tip your head to the side. The saline will enter through that nostril and pour out the other, cleansing the nasal passages. Once one nostril is finished, exhale a few times into a tissue, making sure not to pinch off one side of the nose; this can cause water to go into the ears. Then, repeat the process with the other nostril. There are numerous videos online to illustrate the process, and it is very easy to get the hang of and only takes a few minutes per day.

Another option for saline nasal irrigation is to snort the salt water out of cupped hands, but this takes more practice. Some neti pots are given a more bulbous shape and can be squeezed, which forces the water through the nose at a greater pressure. Any of these can be effective methods for saline nasal irrigation, so it is recommended to choose the method that works best for you. A nasal wash can be performed either in the morning or in the evening, before bed.

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