Nasal irrigation is a safe and easy way to rinse your sinuses. It can help relieve symptoms related to a sinus infection, allergies, a cold or other upper respiratory conditions. Neti pots, rinse bottles and pre-filled containers are all excellent options if you want to try nasal irrigation.
Nasal irrigation is an at-home treatment to rinse your sinuses. Your sinuses are air-filled, hollow cavities behind the bones in your face. Usually, they remain open so you can breathe easily. If your sinuses become irritated or inflamed, however, mucus (snot) can clog your nasal cavities.
With nasal irrigation, you flush away the clog using a saline solution (water and sodium chloride mix) with a neti pot or a rinse bottle. Nasal irrigation thins the mucus that’s causing the clog. It rinses away substances causing the swelling.
You can buy the ingredients for nasal irrigation over the counter at most pharmacies or drug stores. All you need is a saline solution and a container to administer it. All containers sold for nasal irrigation purposes work equally well. Choose a container that’s most comfortable for you.
Nasal irrigation clears mucus and flushes out pathogens, allergens or other debris. Pathogens include germs, like bacteria and viruses. Allergens include pollen, mold, dirt, dust and pet dander. When these substances get trapped in your nose, they irritate your sinuses and cause symptoms like:
Nasal irrigation isn’t for everyone. You shouldn’t try nasal irrigation if you:
Contact your healthcare provider if you have questions about whether nasal irrigation is safe for you.
It’s essential to use water that doesn’t contain substances that could irritate your sinuses or make you sick. Most water contains trace amounts of minerals, germs, pesticides and other substances. You don’t want to introduce these substances to your sinuses during nasal irrigation.
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First, wash your hands with soap and water. Wash the container if you’re using a neti pot, a nasal rinse bottle or another container that doesn’t contain a prefilled solution. Irrigate over a sink to make cleanup easier.
Irrigate your other nostril by repeating these steps on the other side.
Clean up afterward by throwing away the prefilled container or washing the neti pot or rinse bottle. Check the packaging to see if your container is dishwasher-safe. If it isn’t, you can wash it in the sink and let it air dry on a clean towel.
Nasal irrigation is an inexpensive, easy way to relieve unpleasant symptoms related to common upper respiratory infections and allergies. Many people who try nasal irrigation feel better after just one use. Studies have shown that children and adults with allergies who use nasal irrigation have improved symptoms for up to three months.
Usually, there are no side effects.
Some people experience burning or stinging in their noses after doing nasal irrigation. If this happens, reduce the amount of salt you use in your saline solution. Also, make sure that boiled water has cooled to lukewarm before you use it.
Nasal irrigation is safe when it’s done correctly.
There’s a slight risk of infection if you use contaminated water. Many people who hesitate to use nasal irrigation reference news stories about “brain-eating” microbes. An amoeba called Naegleria can cause a life-threatening brain condition called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) if you ingest it. Most people with PAM get it from swimming in water that contains the amoeba.
Most cases associated with nasal irrigation involve people who used untreated tap water. Using distilled or boiled water can protect you from Naegleria.
Schedule a visit with your healthcare provider if nasal irrigation isn’t helping your symptoms, if they’re getting worse, or if you develop additional symptoms, like a fever or headache.
It’s OK to do a nasal wash once or even twice daily while you have symptoms. Some people without symptoms irrigate daily or a few times a week to prevent sinus infections or allergy symptoms. As long as you’re taking care to clean containers properly and use boiled or distilled water, nasal irrigation is a safe daily ritual.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Nasal irrigation can often provide relief when dealing with an irritating stuffy or runny nose. Take care to irrigate correctly. Use purified water (boiled or distilled). Choose non-iodized salt over iodized. And never attempt nasal irrigation if you have clogged ears or an ear infection. If you’re unsure whether it’s safe to try nasal irrigation, reach out to your healthcare provider for guidance.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/12/2022.
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