Temperatures are now starting to drop and the weather is getting colder in many parts of the globe. Government agencies and health experts are now warning and urging citizens to be prepared for cold weather-associated diseases, including flu, cough, cold, fever, allergies and sinusitis.
Nowadays, prevention and cures of these cold weather-related illnesses have become quite easy. Thanks to advancements in medicine and discoveries of natural remedies, you can now find a wide array of solutions from pharmacies (chemists) or herbal shops to help people prevent and treat diseases that are brought about by the change in temperature.
Some of the most widely used remedies for cough, cold, flu and sinusitis include the following:
- Cough drop or hard candy – also known as cough sweet and throat lozenge, it is a medicated tablet in the form of a candy, which you will dissolve in your mouth to provide temporary solution to sore throat or cough. It soothes irritated tissues, which may be caused by cold or influenza.
- Honey – this sweet extract has been used traditionally to treat sore throat and cough. You can add one teaspoon of honey to your tea.
- Over-the-counter medicine – expectorants, decongestants, suppressants and the like can be used to help ease breathing, soothe decongestion and improve your condition.
- Medicinal irrigation solution – this can be bought from a pharmacy or chemist, or homemade. A medicinal spray, like nasal and throat sprays, for example, soothes sore throat, decongested passageways and the like. It works by getting to the root of the problem simply by getting rid of bacteria or viruses that cause cough, cold or flu, among others. What makes a medicinal spray preferred by a lot of people is its ability to provide faster relief. This is because it is directly absorbed.
One of the most widely used and preferred medicinal irrigation is the nasal saline solution.
Nasal Saline Solution Overview
Saline or saline solution is a solution that combines sodium chloride in water. It is generally used as eye drops, as well as to rinse contact lenses, skin abrasions and wounds. Most importantly, it is used as nasal irrigation to provide relief to common diseases, such as cough, cold, flu, cystic fibrosis and more. It is considered an ancient technique that is based on homeopathic practices since the early times.
In a saline solution, salt concentrations may vary from low to normal to high, which applies mostly in molecular biology and rarely in medicine. For intravenous application, a normal saline solution is often used, which contains 9.0g of salt per liter.
Another important application of a saline solution is nasal irrigation or nasal douche. It is considered a hygienic practice wherein the nasal cavities are rid of excess mucus and debris. This method is well-tolerated because it is proven beneficial with little to no side effects. It is also reported to improve sinus and nasal health as it boosts the function of cilia, clearing the sinuses and preventing infection. In fact, patients who were diagnosed with chronic sinusitis and were suffering from the symptoms, like headache, halitosis, facial pain, anterior rhinorrhea, nasal congestion and cough, claim that nasal irrigation has given them relief from the pain and discomfort. Plus, it can help prevent the spread of infection as well as reduce postnasal drip. Most importantly, nasal irrigation can make you feel more comfortable because of its ability to keep the mucus membranes moist. This is why nasal douching is highly recommended by doctors as an adjunctive way to treat the symptoms of chronic pain in the nasal cavities.
In addition, a nasal saline solution is often used to treat people with allergies who tried the usual treatments but did not get the best result. This is especially true for those who are suffering from nasal allergies from pollen and other allergens.
Common diseases that can be treated with a nasal saline solution
- Chronic sinusitis – this is the kind of sinusitis that lasts for more than 12 weeks. It is the kind of condition wherein the sinuses are inflamed, causing thick nasal mucus, facial pain, fever, headache, sore throat, cough and plugged nose. It can be caused by allergies, structure of the nose, air pollution and infection.
- Allergic rhinitis – also known as hay fever, this is caused by inhaling allergens, such as dust or pollen, which then triggers an increase in the production of antibodies. Most common symptoms include erythema, lower eyelid venous stasis, swollen nasal turbinates, conjuctival swelling, eyelid swelling and middle ear effusion.
- Acute upper respiratory tract infections – these include the common cold and acute sinusitis, which is the kind of sinusitis that lasts no more than four weeks.
- Cystic fibrosis – it is a kind of hereditary disorder that affects a person’s exocrine glands, causing abnormally thick mucus that blocks the bronchi, lungs, intestines and pancreatic ducts. As a result, a person’s airways become blocked, leading to respiratory infection.
- Pregnancy rhinitis – this condition usually appears during the first trimester, but can also be experienced at any point during pregnancy. Some of the common symptoms include sneezing, coughing, postnasal drip, difficulty in breathing and runny nose.
- Deviated Nasal Septum – when a person’s nasal septum or the bone and cartilage that divide the nasal cavity is crooked or not in the right position, resulting in difficulty in breathing.
Studies show that nasal irrigation can treat the abovementioned conditions because it restores moisture to dry, irritated sinuses and nasal passages, as well as soothe inflamed mucus membranes.
Known Benefits of Nasal Saline Solution
- Clear and maintain nasal passages
- Remove irritants, debris and particles that keep the passages and airways blocked
- Moisturize and soothe dry, irritated membranes
- Prevent upper respiratory tract infections
- Improve sense of smell
- Get rid of thick mucus and reduce congestion in the nose
- Helps sinuses drain freely to eliminate bacteria, viruses, contaminants, irritants and allergens
- Minimize coughing and postnasal drip
- Treat sinusitis and rhinitis
- Improve sense of taste
- Improves breathing
- Reduce snoring
- Prevent the occurrence of nose bleeding
- Clean stressed nasal tissues caused by radiation therapy in the head and sinus area
- Improve breathing that may be affected by cystic fibrosis and other medical conditions
There are nasal saline solutions that can be bought over the counter. But you can also create your own homemade treatment.
Homemade Nasal Saline Solution Recipe
1 cup or 240 ml distilled water
½ tsp. salt (non-iodized, pickling or canning or kosher salt)
½ tsp. baking soda
- In a clean container, pour 1 cup distilled water. Be sure to sterilize if you’re using tap water.
- Add ½ tsp. salt to water.
- Add ½ tsp. baking soda.
- Store solution at room temperature for 3 days.
How to use:
- Use a squeeze bottle, medical syringe or nasal cleansing pot or neti pot. Use its tip to insert into your nostril.
- Aim the tip of the container toward the back of your head. Spray one or two squirts into each nostril.
- Sneeze very gently to ensure the rinse was absorbed well. Check if the saline solution goes through the nose and out the mouth or the other side of your nose.
- Blow your nose gently after using the nasal irrigation unless the doctor has not advised you to do so. Careful not to snort it back to your throat as this could cause irritation in your septu
- Repeat multiple times in a day.
- Clean the container after each use. You can use bleach or pop it in the microwave.
Do keep in mind when using a nasal saline solution:
- Use nasal irrigation before using other nasal medicines. This ensures that your sinuses will absorb the medicines you take.
- Use this treatment whenever you feel congested. Place the nasal saline solution in small bottles so you can take it with you anywhere you go. This is especially important if your work exposes you to dust and debris all the time.
- You may feel a burning sensation in your nose in the first few uses. But you may get used to it after a few times.
- You can opt to warm your nasal saline solution. But make sure it’s not too hot.
- Maintain proper hygiene after using a nasal saline solution. Wipe secretions around the nostrils, and make sure the device you used is properly sterilized before and after administering the treatment.
A bulb syringe is best when administering a nasal douche to babies and small children. To draw up the solution into the bulb, sweet out about half the air in it. Tilt the child’s head back slightly and place the bulb’s tip into one nostril at a time. Squeeze out three to four drops of the solution, avoiding touching the inside of the child’s nose. As the saline is working, be sure to keep the child’s head in a tilted position for a few minutes to ensure proper absorption.
After two to three minutes, use a rubber bulb syringe to suction the child’s mucus. Use a soft, wet tissue to wipe away any secretion left in the child’s nostrils. Be careful not to touch the inside of the nostrils as it is likely to be highly sensitive and could be easily irritated and infected. Be sure not to use the same tissue on both nostrils. And make sure your hands are clean before and after administering the nasal irrigation.
It is also to be noted that administering nasal irrigation on a child is best done before feeding or going to bed. This ensures that the child will be able to breathe better while sleeping or eating.
Things to Take Note of Before Using Nasal Saline Solution:
- You cannot use a saline spray if you are allergic to any ingredient used in making a homemade solution.
- It is not advisable for to use this treatment if you are pregnant, planning to get pregnant or are breastfeeding.
- You are not advised to use nasal irrigation if have allergies to certain foods, medicines and other substances.
- Your saline solution may interact with other medicines. If you are taking medicines, you will have to consult your doctor.
- If you are still experiencing the symptoms even after using a saline solution, you should have yourself checked with a doctor.
- Consult with your doctor immediately if you experience nosebleed, pain or other problems.
Possible side effects of nasal saline solution
- Severe allergic reactions
- Tightening in the chest
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the lips, face or mouth
If you experience any of these signs or anything that seems off after using a nasal douche, it would be best to stop using it first. Be sure to contact your medical doctor to ask whether to continue with the treatment or not.
While the aim of nasal irrigation is to cleanse nasal passages and improve breathing, not all irrigation techniques may be able to achieve this. A study has proven that the three common delivery devices are a nebulizer, nasal spray and positive pressure flush. Although all three devices were able to enter the nose, they had difficulty getting into the nasal cavities. It also revealed that the positive pressure method is the best technique. But getting the solution into the sinuses of an unoperated nose could be limited. However, other studies show that higher volumes of the saline solution leads to better coverage of the nasal cavities, regardless of the device used. It also showed how high volume irrigations are better than nasal sprays. Another thing that may have an impact on the delivery of the nasal solution is the head position. Keeping the patient’s head down during irrigation helps ensure that the solution gets to the top of the nose and sinuses on the forehead area.
A lot of practitioners recommend using saline solutions with a concentration that is the same as the salt concentration in the body, called isotonic. Although some studies show that higher concentrations offer better results, these may lead to increased nasal congestion due to swelling, which could be caused by irritation related to higher salt content. In fact, it could result in damage to the small hairs in the nose, called cilia.
In other cases, adding buffering agents, such as baking soda, to the nasal saline solution proves to improve symptoms better than salt water alone. There are now premixed salt packets sold by numerous companies nowadays, which are more convenient and still relatively cheap. But patients may also opt to make their own saline solutions at home. A common recipe includes 2-3 teaspoons of iodine or kosher salt, ½ teaspoon baking soda and 1 liter of sterile or distilled water.
When using a homemade nasal saline solution to treat your sinusitis or allergic rhinitis, it is important to keep the delivery device clean and sterile, be it a neti pot, medical syringe or squeeze bottle. A group of physicians studying saline solutions found out that 1/3 of the irrigation devices used by different patients were positive for bacteria. By taking cultures of the bacteria both from the bottles and patients, they found out it was the same strain. This means that the devices can contaminate the nose, which could lead to more problems, if they are not properly cleaned. The study explored several sterilization methods, including boiling water rinse, cold water irrigation, diluting with bleach, microwaving and detergent cleaning. The methods that showed best results are the bleaching and microwave solutions. These techniques could sterilize the bottles for up to 48 hours. Fortunately, microwave safe irrigation bottles can now be bought locally. So, consider using this method to prevent your nasal solution bottles free from being contaminated.
Aside from using sterile saline devices, it is almost extremely important to use distilled or boiled water. There have been 2 reported incidents of patients dying from encephalitis, which was a result of having drank neti pots with tap water that allegedly tested positive for Naegleria fowleri, a type of amoeba present in rivers and lakes. This contamination of local tap water is extremely rare, though, as it is not common in municipally treated water. But it is still immensely important to use proper caution when choosing what kind of water to use for nasal irrigation. It is best to use distilled, properly filtered or boiled water, according to experts.
It should also be noted that there is improved delivery of the saline solution when combined with active medications, like steroids and topical antibiotic. A study showed that patients who used high volume irrigations and were actively taking nasal steroid sprays had their quality of life improved. Saline solutions that contain dilute steroids are also crucial in controlling symptoms, especially in patients suffering from chronic rhinosinusitis. However, using medicated nasal douching to treat chronic sinusitis has yet to be proven.
In conclusion, recent studies have evidence of the efficacy of nasal saline solutions in treating numerous respiratory problems. There are several devices that you can use to deliver the rinse, but high volume and positive pressure methods are proven to be more effective. Again, it is crucial to ensure that the nasal saline solution device and water source you are using are clean and safe to prevent contamination.