Up Your Nose With A ... um ... Neti Pot
(May 22, 2018)
It’s the time of year in Nashville when everyone’s car, no matter what color it was to start with, is now yellow. The sheer volume of pollen is enough to get almost anyone sniffling. But as is usual with all types of human misery, the suffering distribution is quite unequal. Some people rub their noses once in a while, while some scour the internet in the hopes of finding a way to temporarily amputate their head.
There is more than one way to approach the seasonal allergy problem. Most of them require beginning well before the season and symptoms are in full swing, which is a bit of wisdom that, as of this writing, won’t do anyone any good. However, even if you are in full-blown Phlegm Mode right now, you aren’t confined to prescription and over-the-counter medications. There is still nasal irrigation.
“Nasal irrigation” sounds AWFUL. We’ve all irrigated our noses with orange juice at least once, and it is something that most likely is not on anyone’s bucket list. So to do something similar on purpose sounds like the worst sort of masochism. But it is something that can be very helpful, is not nearly as hard to do or uncomfortable as it sounds, and if it doesn’t work, it won’t get you into any trouble. Totally my kind of treatment.
For the uninitiated, then -- nasal irrigation is exactly what it sounds like. You run a water solution through your sinuses. This is not a traditional Western method, obviously. Most of THOSE involve vomiting, enemas, bleeding, leeches, etc. It’s Eastern, specifically ayurvedic (the native medicine of India). And the word on the street is that it can be very, very helpful.
It may work by flushing the allergens (pollen, in this case) out of your sinuses so that your body isn’t reacting to them anymore. The solution used may re-hydrate dried out nasal passages. It may loosen and flush out mucus, and decrease inflammation. No one’s sure exactly how it works.
Or for certain even that it DOES work. I wish I had some solid scientific evidence for you at this point that nasal irrigation helps to alleviate allergy symptoms. But there is little, if any. The Cochrane Library (which I have mentioned before; it is a nonprofit group that evaluates the scientific literature on specific topics and evaluates the available evidence for or against something) is trying to promote research on the topic right now because the evidence is so scanty.
That there is little evidence one way or the other doesn’t mean a whole lot, and I will tell you why. “Evidence” is only good if you have some, which means that someone has to cough up a bunch of money before you can go looking for it. And treatments like nasal irrigation, which are cheap and easily available and cannot be patented, rarely get much cash thrown to them. This is a problem with any product or method that can’t be flogged for big profits by your moneyed types.
I am not being cynical here. American medicine is undeniably money driven and when you can lay claim to a bit of intellectual property, you have an interest not just in promoting that product, but in establishing its validity. In other words, if you can PROVE that your proprietary patented iridescent algae packs actually reduce pain, people will be buying and using them long after Gwyneth Paltrow has forgotten all about them. But if everyone and his brother can manufacture them, what use is it to you to prove that they work? Research on anything that can't be financially exploited typically has to wait for some kind of government funding, and if it isn’t a better faster way to kill people, it has to go to the end of the line. But I digress.
So -- seasonal allergies. Right now, your choices are to just gird your loins and suffer, go to Iceland for the summer, medicate yourself half to death, or try nasal irrigation. So, what the hey.
Traditionally this is done in India with a neti pot, a very cool looking and relatively inexpensive little item that looks like, if it doesn’t help your allergies directly, at least might enable you to call up a genie to grant your wish to do so. You pour a solution of one cup distilled water to one-half teaspoon salt (or some variation thereof) into it. Then you tilt your head over the sink, and pour the solution into one nostril. It automatically comes out the other, politely greeting all your sinuses along the way and relieving them of their pollen and mucus burdens. That's it.
Here is a short youtube video on the procedure. It's meant to promote someone's own personal products, but it is informative and isn't too gross for a family newsletter:
Waterpik also has an attachment that irrigates the nasal passages. It’s reportedly easier to use but pricier than a neti pot. There are a bunch of other similar items, but they all essentially work the same way, and I wouldn’t spend the big bucks on any of them (until and unless you decide that you want to go to The Next Level with your nasal irrigation. In which case I’d be the last person to stand in your way).
If you’re having a rough time with the pollen this year, or any year, you have nothing to lose by trying this but a bit of money and a little time. Nasal irrigation isn't nearly as weird as it seems to be at first blush. That first hump is all you have to get over. It’s good to try new things. And it may even help you a whole lot. Best of luck!
--dr. diane holmes
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