How do I perform a saline nasal irrigation?

What is a saline nasal irrigation and why do I need it?

While it may sound intimidating, a saline nasal irrigation is really nothing more than running a gentle saline solution through the nasal passages and sinuses. Most people find that it only takes a short time before they are comfortable irrigating their nose.

The nasal and sinus cavities are normally able to clear mucus on their own. However, when tissue is swollen due to allergy, irritation, or infection, the nasal and sinus cavities are not able to clean themselves. In these cases, irrigations (nasal flushing or washing) are used until the lining of the nose and sinuses can recover and begin performing normally again. Nasal irrigation cleans the passages of your nose where particles get trapped . Nasal irrigation will also help stimulate cilia movement---which is needed for the sinuses to clean themselves.

How do I make the solution?

Many commercially available sinus rinses already come with a pre-made solution. However, it is easy to make your own. To make your own solution:

  • Boil tap water at a full rolling boil for at least 3 minutes
  • Place it in a clean one liter or one quart container. We recommend using a container with a wide mouth to facilitate washing, and more important, thorough drying of the container.
  • Add 2-3 teaspoons of table salt. For stuffy noses, also add ¼ to ½ teaspoon baking soda (not baking powder).
  • Mix it thoroughly and let it cool to room temperature before use.

How do I irrigate my nose?

If you bought a sinus rinse from the drug store, simply follow the enclosed directions. In general, you will irrigate each nostril with ¼ to ½ cup of the solution. Perform the irrigations while leaning forward over a sink so that the solution may drip or be spit out. Place the tip of the device at the opening of the nostril and gently irrigate the solution into the nose. We recommend using any commercially available sinus rinse device that allows gentle flushing or irrigation of the nasal and sinus cavities, not just a saline mist or spray. (An example is NeilMed Sinus. However, any comparable device is acceptable.) These relatively inexpensive devices are available at most drug stores and can be taken apart for thorough periodic cleaning. You should choose the sinus rinse that is most comfortable for you.Here is a link demonstrating this technique:

Following are some helpful tips:

  • Breathe through your mouth or hold your breath while flushing.
  • Stop irrigating if you have to sneeze or cough.
  • Do not speak or swallow while flushing. This could change the pressure in your ears/nose and cause infectious material to be drawn into the middle ear/sinuses.
  • At first, you may have an aversion to doing the irrigations (much like touching the eye when first
  • learning to wear contact lenses.) After a while, this will subside, and you will be able to tolerate irrigation quite easily.

How do I clean the equipment?

You should clean the irrigation device and solution container daily with soap and water to ensure that bacteria are not reintroduced into the nasal cavity when you irrigate. This is one reason why we suggest using two containers (so one can be cleaned while the other is in use.) Sterilization may be performed once a week with a weak solution of Betadine (available in pharmacies) or a diluted solution of bleach and water (1 part bleach and 100 parts water). Allow the device to completely air dry before using again.Last but not least, visit for more information. 

Recent studies recommend replacing the irrigation device with a new one every 3 months to avoid bacterial contamination of the nose and sinuses.

IMPORTANT – There is a very small risk of developing severe, life–threatening infections with the use of saline nasal irrigations if proper hygiene measures are not followed. Sterile, boiled, or distilled water should be used for the saline mixture. Tap water should not be used. 

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