April 2019

Allergy season approaching: should you try nasal irrigation?

It’s that time of year again. Allergy sufferers are often willing to try anything to relieve the predictable symptoms. Nasal irrigation with neti pots is a go-to for many. But does it really work?

Most research says yes. Saline nasal irrigation with a neti pot or rinse bottle once daily can reduce common allergy symptoms like itching, sneezing, and runny nose. Patients with severe symptoms can consider using it 3-4 times daily. It works by flushing out mucus and allergens and often improves airflow. For those who tend to battle sinus infections, research shows that using nasal irrigation reduces symptoms and the need for antibiotics. It can also reduce the need for allergy medications.

Some patients might be scared to try nasal irrigation. Assure them that when done properly, it’s likely safe for most people. The amoebic brain infections some people might ask about are very rare and avoidable. Tell patients to use only boiled (for 3-5-minutes and then cooled down to lukewarm), distilled, or sterile water. Remind them that using a drinking water filter like Brita to treat water isn’t enough. And tell them to never use plain tap water. Also, let patients know that pots and rinse bottles should be washed with hot soapy water after every use and should never be shared with other people. If used often, they should be replaced every few months.

Make sure patients know that nasal irrigation is different than using a nasal spray. A saline nasal spray just moistens the nasal passages. Nasal irrigation is the best bet for alleviating symptoms and removing allergens. For more details about nasal irrigation, check out our recently updated monograph.

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