Allergic Nose Solution

Nasal irrigation invites infections

Women relaxing in her home

Women relaxing in her home

For persons with sinus problems, the only way to get rid of the chronic feeling of being stuffed up may be either medication or using nasal saline irrigation.

But research, presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, finds that despite short-term benefits, the long-term effect could be to make one prone to more sinus infections.

How Nasal Irrigation Works

In nasal irrigation, one uses a bulb syringe, squeeze bottle, or neti pot to pour or spray a hypertonic mixture of salt and water into the nostril and through the nasal cavity into the other nostril. Irrigation with the neti pot, a fixture of Ayurveda, is considered on the six cleansing practices or kriyas. Their use accelerated when doctor Oz shared neti pot use on the Oprah Winfrey show in 2007. But some researchers question its long-term benefits.

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“By washing the nose, we are removing the bad mucus but, unfortunately, we are also removing the good mucus that contains the antimicrobial agents as well,” says Talal Nsouli, M.D., clinical professor of pediatrics and allergy/immunology at Georgetown University School of Medicine and director of Watergate & Burke Allergy & Asthma Centers, in Washington D.C. “And, by depleting the nose of its immune elements, we expose the patient to more sinus infections.”

Neti Not So Good

Some 68 participants in the study that Nsouli conducted used nasal irrigation two times daily for one year and none at all in the second year. Their rate of sinus infections went down 62% in the second year. Nsouli connects this with the adverse effects of nasal irrigation.

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“People who were using nasal sinus irrigation were having an average of eight sinus infections a year. They dropped to three per year,” Nsouli said. “The nasal secretions do contain immune elements that protect patients against infection. Our recommendation is that patients should not use nasal saline on regular basis, only when they have an infection. Long-term use was harmful and not helpful at all, and depleting the nose of its immune elements caused infections to occur on chronic basis.”

Other doctors concurred.

“There’s a blanket of little, hair-like projections called cilia in the nose, and those cilia can be stunned if they’re chronically bathed in hypertonic, which is excess salt, or hypo, which is too-little salt, rinses,” said Dr. Michael J. Bergstein, senior attending physician at Northern Westchester Hospital Center in Mt. Kisco, New York. “Do not use nasal saline irrigation as a maintenance because you’ll be altering the natural immune benefit that the sinuses have.”

Read Part 2: What to do

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