Nasal Saline: Six Salty Secrets to Beat Allergies!

Dr. Momma discusses the value in using nasal saline (salt water) washes to improve allergy and chronic upper respiratory conditions.

Nasal saline is a fancy word for salt water! Years ago,  many physicians (myself included!) used to provide a “recipe” for parents to make their own salt water nasal mix. Now rows and rows of nasal saline solutions line store shelves everywhere.

Most people understand the value to saline washes in infants who have trouble breathing. However, after infancy, people tend to use saline only “when symptoms become really bad”. I struggle to understand why symptoms must be really bad. If you know your allergies flare every April or after soccer matches, why not proactively use saline? A major part of my Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) practice management for over 20 years remains dedicated to discussing this issue.

The pink tissue that lines your nose and sinuses, called a mucous membrane, becomes swollen in reaction  to viruses, bacteria, pollen, dust or other allergens. After swelling, the tissue begins to produce additional mucous. Mucous is a liquid that is made by special cells in several different locations, including the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts.  One type of immunoglobulin forms in these tissues and collects in mucous to help fight infections.

It is common to think that producing mucous means that you are sick. However, you are always producing mucous and probably don’t notice it. If excess mucous remains in the nose, it often leads to swelling and blockage of ears and sinuses or other ENT problems.

There are many medications to treat swelling of the nasal tissues. And surgery provides a better drainage pathway to prevent mucous  from causing additional blockage. However, the value of using nasal saline washes cannot be emphasized enough as both prevention and treatment of respiratory diseases. Understanding the usage of nasal saline washes may drastically improve the health of your family.

Six Salty Secrets of  Nasal Saline washes: Why, How, and What it does!

1. Washes away bacteria, viruses, pollen and pollutants.

Just as we brush our teeth daily to prevent cavities, washing our noses to remove airborne particles can markedly improve allergy symptoms and recurrent ear and nose diseases. Most people only need to use the nasal saline when they have an illness; however chronic suffers may wash their noses each night.

2. Lubricates the dry nasal tissues

When mucous becomes dry and hard, the underlying tissues can become irritated and crack. Nosebleeds are a common result of dry irritated tissues. Nasal saline washes remove the hardened mucous and adds moisture back into the dry tissues. A moist environment in the nose is very important for the body to fight infection and clear out contaminated mucous.

3. Burning sensations can be reduced

Some people complain of nasal burning when using the spray on inflamed tissues. Many times, the burning is due to preservatives added to the commercial brands. Each manufacturer has their own specific recipe, so you might try a few other brands to find one the suits your needs.

There are a large variety  of saline dispensers from a simple squeeze bottle, a refillable bottle, a pressurized aerosol spray and  a netipot. As long as you are getting saline into the nose, then your technique is awesome!

If all brands you try still lead to burning, you may need to go old school and make your own!

4. Improves the body’s natural ability to keep the nose clean

Mucous is carried from the front to the back of the nose by tiny hairs called cilia (SILLY-uh). Cilia are one of our first lines of defense to keep the nasal tissues clean and healthy. The cilia beat in a coordinated pattern, sweeping the mucus  back to the throat where it is swallowed and neutralized by stomach acid or spit out.

With a virus infection, the cilia are slowed down, and most sinus disease is caused when the cilia stop beating. Salt water has been shown in the lab to increase the speed that the cilia are beating.

5. Warming the nasal saline makes it more effective

Warming the nasal saline before use adds an additional benefit because the function of the cilia is improved in a warm environment.

This may account for us learning from our grandmothers that we need to have hot tea and chicken noodle soup when we are sick!

6. YES…infants and toddlers can have this done daily.

No one said parenting was easy! Brushing a child’s teeth, putting on clothes and even placing a child in a car seat can be a real work out. Washing the nose is no different. There has never been a parent who said: My child loves this nasal washing. So, roll up your sleeves and make it happen. The rewards are worth it.

I personally started doing this daily for  my 6 month old after she developed pneumonia. My technique included placing her on my lap with her back pressed to my chest, and then I crossed my legs over her flailing legs. It is important to pin those legs down because they are powerful and allow kids to squirm free. Next, one of my arms was placed across her chest to restrain both of her arms. All that was left free was her neck moving side to side but that was manageable with my free hand and the water bottle. Be prepared for getting a bit wet and watch your chin so you don’t get a head-butt! I did this for years and controlled severe allergies and asthma until allergy shots were needed.

*These are opinions of Dr. Momma. Discuss your specific treatments with your physician*


Dr. Momma discusses the value in using nasal saline (salt water) washes to improve allergy and chronic upper respiratory conditions.





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