Dr Decipher: Neti Pot, to the Sinus Rescue

January 31st, 2011 by Kim Lenz

One of the most common complaints I am hearing besides cough and fever these days is congestion and sinus pressure. I have also had chronic sinus problems all my life, and have tried all the usual medications both prescription and over the counter including: Sudafed and other decongestants, Afrin nasal spray, guafenisin (Mucinex), allergy pills, even nasal steroid sprays and antibiotics.

My wife has the same problems, and I have curiously watched her from time to time crouch over the bathroom sink and use a small ceramic pot shaped like a miniature tea kettle to pour a solution in her nose (with a pained look on her face). It has always looked like a form of water torture to me, but lately my sinus pressure has been severe, so I decided to try it.

The practice of Neti is nasal irrigation; it seems to have originated in India as part of Ayervedic medicine. This alternative medical practice involves balancing three elemental humors: vata (air and space), pitta (fire and water, bile), and kapha (water and earth, phlegm). It is also known as Jala Neti in Hatha Yoga, which emphasizes body cleansing.

Now, I don’t know much about Indian medicine, and I have never attempted the downward dog or warrior yoga poses, but I definitely needed to decrease my “kapha” and cleanse my sinuses and nasal passages.


A Neti pot

Neti involves using a saline solution in a pot with a small, long spout to clear the nostrils and remove excess mucus. I mixed an isotonic solution by combining 500 ml of water with 5 g of salt. While leaning over a sink, I turned my head to a 45 degree angle, and inserted the nozzle of the pot into the “uphill” nostril. I then gritted my teeth and slowly lifted the handle to start the flow. Wow, the sensation was like jumping off the high dive into a pool as the solution went up one nostril, way back in the nose, then ran out of the other nostril. As I breathed through my mouth, the flow continued, flushing out a lot of mucus until the pot was empty. I then repeated the process on the other side.

I was glad it was over; the sensation was not pleasant, and my nose continued to run for about an hour afterwards. I blew it and sneezed, which brought out even more mucus. But then a couple of hours later I realized something – I was breathing easier through both nostrils and I had a “clean and fresh” feeling in my nose. I did not have pressure in my sinuses – it had worked!

Medical studies have shown that the Neti pot is effective in relieving congestion and sinus pressure if used short-term about once a day or three times per week. It may aid our normal mucociliary clearance mechanism, liquefy mucus and help draw phlegm out of the maxillary sinuses, caverns in our skull cheekbones that have small openings into the nasal passages. However, one study did show that Neti pot users who performed daily irrigation for a year had more sinus problems after they discontinued its use, which leads to the recommendation of short-term but not chronic long-term use.

Other additives to the solution may include sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) as a buffering agent and xylitol, a synthetic sugar that bacteria cannot digest.

Ok, now I am a praticioner of the ancient art of Ayervedic medicine, however I hesitate to check into what I would need to do to myself to balance my other body humors. Speaking of humor(s), do you have any interesting personal anecdotes or information on the use of the Neti pot or other sinus remedies?

2 Responses to Dr Decipher: Neti Pot, to the Sinus Rescue

  1. Anonymous

    January 31, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    Make sure to use distilled water (to avoid contaminants in tap water) and have it heated to your body temp (too hot = ouch!; to cold = more mucus).

  2. Anonymous

    January 31, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    I’ve used tap water from all over the world without problem. I buy the morton’s salt that is iodine and caking-agent free. (find it at blooms)
    1 tsp salt
    1/2 tsp bkg soda
    1 neti pot warm water (even Wallgreens has them)

    If I take a long plane trip – first thing I use on arrival.
    Won’t leave home without it.

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