This post contains affiliate links. Please see full disclosure for more details.
Nasal salt water washes stand as an extremely useful method to improve symptoms caused by a runny, congested nose. My previous post detailed how the nasal saline water washes are beneficial. Regardless of the cause of nasal swelling and mucus production, cleansing with nasal salt water (saline) relieves symptoms and helps to prevent progression of the disease. Even the common cold is capable of causing severe viral infection complications.
Nasal mucus serves many great functions in our bodies. Mucus helps keep us healthy; however, it becomes a problem when too much is made. Salt water nasal washes are an excellent way to maintain health.
Salt is required for our bodies to function properly. Because our bodies do not make salt, we must eat it. But just like everything else in our lives, moderation is key! Eating too much salt causes many medical problems.
The fluids in our bodies naturally contain a large amount of salt. If you think back to high school science, you might (MIGHT!) recall that salt moves across tissues to areas that have lower amounts of salt. This process of salt movement is designed to keep our body fluids in balance. Therefore, this explains the importance of using salt water nose washes instead of plain water.
Let me repeat, rinsing your nose with plain tap water is not a good choice. Doing this sometimes in the shower will not cause any problems; however, if you perform plain water nose washes, you will make nasal symptoms much worse. Why? Because your nasal tissues will try to absorb extra water trying to balance the salt content. Now, who needs to have extra swollen nasal tissues from rinsing with the plain water? Nobody. So, don’t do this!
Since my first post was published, I received numerous questions about the best practices for the successful use of nasal salt water washes. As mentioned, there is no one way to achieve success. The upcoming list details some helpful tips.
10 Tips for successful use of nasal salt water washes.
Infant and toddler positioning is key!
Most parents in my office describe using nasal salt water washes while their infants lie on their backs, sometimes swaddled in a blanket. Well, this position allows the water to shoot directly to the back of the nose and into the throat causing choking and gagging.
Infants should be in a sitting position. Any technique is fine, but I found it easiest to position my own infant on my lap with her back to my chest. Then I crossed my legs over hers to keep them from flailing because the legs give more power to wiggle free. One of my arms crossed her body to hold both of her arms which allowed my free arm to rinse her nose with better control.
Remember to watch your chin to avoid getting an angry head-butt!
Position for everyone except infants and toddlers.
Children and adults should use nasal salt water washes in the shower or over the sink. Many children reflexively tilt their chins in the air, but this encourages the salty solution to travel into the throat.
One of the best positions for saline washes is to lean over the sink and allow the wash to go in nostrils and run back out. Please remember that you are rinsing out the nose, not the sinus! Just allow the water to go in an out of the nose. A clean nose allows any sinus problems to drain better.
Do not need to use excessive force
I emphasize the need for rinsing, cleaning or washing. I do not mean scrubbing by aggressively forcing liquids into the nose. Some people use devices similar to a water pick. That’s a lot of force. If you love it, then go for it, but it is causing repeated trauma to already inflamed tissues.
Whether you use a simple saline spray, a traditional refillable rinse bottle, a pressurized aerosol can or a Netipot, I recommend a gentle continuous stream or an intermittent pulsating wash. Alternating nostrils allows saline to run out and remove a layer of contaminants. The take-home point: harder and faster washes are not better.
Changing nasal salt water temperature may be helpful
Cold water is typically used and is absolutely acceptable. But let’s be honest, who wants ice cube water in your nose? Nobody. Room temperature is the next most common temperature used. My previous post also discussed the benefits of warm water which increase effective cleansing.
The amount used to wash matters….a lot!
Remember to use enough volume to wash the nose and not just moisten the tissues This means more than 1-2 squirts. For infants 3 squirts each nostril is typically useful while young children often need 5-6 squirts. Older children may use a 4 oz bottle of saline, while the adult nasal saline wash bottle holds 8 oz.
Fix #1 if nasal salt water washes cause burning
If the saline wash burns your inflamed nasal tissues, you may consider trying a variety of over the counter products to find one that has a preservative that is not irritating.
Many times burning occurs because you started the saline in the middle of a sinus infection or allergy attack. Be sure you are properly treating the underlying problem so that nasal salt water washes can help in the recovery. In general, starting the washes earlier in the illness or as maintenance tends to have less burning.
Some of my patients found relief from burning by lubricating inflamed tissues at night with Ayr saline gel.
Fix #2 if nasal salt water wash continues to burn
If all over the counter saline causes burning, you may consider making your own nasal salt water with 8 oz of water, 1 tsp pure salt (rock salt, pickling salt NOT table salt!) and 1/2 tsp baking soda. The baking soda and lack of preservatives reduce the burning sensation.
Cleaning nasal salt water bottles is important
Be sure to thoroughly clean your spray bottles daily to avoid build-up of bacteria and mold which could be flushed up into the nose during the next use.
Stronger nasal salt water solutions and additives exist for advanced users!
My inner science nerd is going to slip out for a little bit here! Our body fluids are salty, and most saline mixes are created to be equal to our body salt content.
When salt mixtures are the same concentration as the salt naturally occurring in our bodies, the liquid is called ISOTONIC (EYE-so-TAWN-ick).
When additional salt is added to the saline solution, the amount of salt becomes greater than our body’s salt concentration. These mixtures are called HYPERTONIC (HIPE-ur-TAWN-ick).
Some physicians recommend these stronger salt water solution mixtures because the extra salt helps reduce nasal congestion more because it causes additional fluid from the swollen nasal tissue to leak into the nose….in an attempt to dilute the hypertonic mixture. (Remember wayyyyy back in chemistry class: OSMOSIS?)
Physicians may also recommend adding antibiotics, anti-fungal medications, or Alkalol for additional nasal care.
WARNING: The hypertonic salt water does tend to have a greater amount of burning and may dry the nose excessively. A dry nose may lead to a nasty nosebleed which is treated by adding back moisture. YOU SHOULD NOT USE VASELINE INSIDE THE NOSE! So, use with caution. Children tend to not tolerate these type washes; however, if you are an adult with significant nasal allergies or sinus infections. go ahead and try some hypertonic saline washes!
The frequency that nasal salt water washes are used makes a huge difference
Some people only need nasal salt water washes when they are sick. Chronically ill patients with severe allergies or chronic sinus infections greatly benefit from more routine usage. By the time an infection has set it, it is too late and recovery is slower. Many of these patients use the washes as a nightly maintenance. Nasal salt washes are one of the best treatments for nasal allergies.
Many children in my practice suffer from recurrent ear infections because of excess nasal mucus caused by the common cold. and allergies. Salt water nasal washes is a major way I recommend parents use if they want to reduce the number of ear infections. Hopefully, these tips will allow you to gain the most benefit possible from your washes.
Regardless of the time of year, there are allergies and viral illnesses that lead to nasal swelling and excess mucus production. Discover your favorite nasal salt water wash and stock up today. The sooner you use them, the better your results.
As always, much love for supporting my work. I will be adding many more posts to highlight parenting and healthcare tips, so be sure to consider subscribing to my podcast or to my blog to avoid missing a post!
Enjoy Dr. Burton’s skin care secrets with Kiehl’s products!
I want to know if the salt in iso tonic salt solution while rinsing nose frequently, can be absorbed by nasal mucus and in long period causes high blood hypertension.
That is a great question. Isotonic means it has the same salt content as the fluids in our body, so no additional salt is added. When HYPERtonic fluid is used, additional salt can be absorbed and additional problems can occur. Isotonic means it has a neutral impact on the tissues.