The sight of colorful spring flowers and blossoms after a
long, cold winter might bring tears to your eyes — along
with a runny nose, sneezing and itching, particularly if you
suffer from seasonal allergies.
But before you reach for any number of expensive over-the-counter
or prescription remedies, you might want to try a cheap
alternative treatment that seems to work for many: nasal
irrigation, or washing out your nose once or twice daily
with warm salt water.
This may be one of the few wacky ancient cures that actually
works. No medical study on nasal irrigation for allergies
is conclusive, but most are rather positive. There's
little risk and little expense in trying. In fact, you have
nothing to lose except for the awkward feeling of saltwater
rushing into your nose, mixing with mucus and running down
Spring is in the air
Spring marks the beginning of an unbearable season for
many with allergies,
as pollen from anemophilous trees such as oak, elm, maple,
alder, birch and juniper fill the air. The same yellowish
dust that coats your car also fills your nasal
passages, causing enough irritation to trigger an allergic
Pharmaceutical companies, with their singular focus on
complex solutions to provide relief at some sub-cellular,
protein-binding, DNA-fragmenting, antigen-blocking level,
have produced a variety of antihistamines, decongestants
and corticosteroids to alleviate symptoms. Some of these
drugs come with side effects, though, such as a perpetual
drowsiness to sedate you until next winter, or worse, they
rob you of the pleasure of operating a forklift.
Nasal irrigation simply washes away the irritants causing
the allergy symptoms.
Old-school medical institutions, such as the Mayo Clinic
and the pages of the journal Otolaryngology & Head and
Neck Surgery, advocate the use of nasal irrigation.
The most recent study appeared in the January 2009 issue
of Laryngoscope, with the 200 patients in the study
reporting some relief of symptoms from twice daily irrigations.
To try it, you can invest two dollars in a bulb syringe.
(Times are tight; you may be tempted to lift a packet of
salt from a fast-food joint.) Or you can buy a neti pot,
which looks like a little oil lamp, often used by yoga devotees.
Nasal irrigation is known as jala neti in the ancient Indian
practice of ayurveda.
Some yoga practitioners are quite skilled at directing
the water in one nostril and out the other, whereas your
experience might date back to a certain incident with a
dumb joke and cold milk in the grade school cafeteria.
Recipe for relief
To minimize any irritation or feeling of discomfort, you
should try to match the water with the temperature and salinity
of your body fluids — essentially an eighth of a teaspoon
of salt in a cup of water, according to one recipe from
the Mayo Clinic.
There are videos and images on the Web that are easy to
find and follow. The Mayo Clinic suggests squirting two
full syringes into each nostril, allowing it to drain from
the same nostril. The Indian technique is trickier.
This might not work for you, but when faced with the alternative
of paying $50 a month for drug relief, nasal irrigation
is nothing to sneeze at.