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I’ve been practicing nasal irrigation for over 10 years now. You’ve probably heard of it referred to as a sinus rinse.
It may be novel to most Americans, but it’s a practice that’s believed to have been passed down by the Ayurvedic medical tradition. Basically, it’s about bathing the sinuses with a saline solution in order to clear out mucus, decrease symptoms associated with allergies or upper respiratory infections and breathe better.
Now, I’ll admit…
The first time you do it (or let’s be honest, the first 20 times) it feels weird!
However, I’ve always noticed that I breathe much more freely after and that if I do it when I’m sick — if I can remember to even though I’m feeling terrible — I tend to feel better faster.
The practice, while it may have its roots in Ayurveda, has gone mainstream. Doctors across the country (including my own) recommend it to patients when they’re sick or simply suffering from seasonal allergies.
Now, one doctor is saying that nasal irrigation could be key not only in recovering from coronavirus, but in preventing it…
The why behind the recommendation
Amy Baxter, M.D., of Pain Care Labs in Atlanta, says that after her own exhaustive research, as well as conferring with colleagues who specialize in the treatment of the lungs, ears, nose and throat, she is convinced that nasal irrigation is an important tool in the battle against COVID-19.
- Viral load — Baxter points out that the viral load seen with coronavirus is heaviest in the nose and sinuses.
- Children less affected — She also says that the fact that children have less developed sinuses where the virus normally congregates and are also less likely to end up with a severe case of COVID-19 is a clue.
- Age bias — According to Dr. Baxter, your sinuses get larger with age, and, of course, your risks when it comes to coronavirus go up with age as well.
- Sex differences — She points to the fact that men (who have larger sinuses than women) have higher death rates from the virus.
- Nasal irrigation practices — Finally, Dr. Baxter thinks that the lower rates of death in countries like South Korea and Japan could be partially thanks to the fact that nasal irrigation is common in those countries (80 percent practice it).
Put simply, she believes that nasal irrigation could help keep the virus from building up and traveling to your lungs, where problems get far worse.
And she could be right…
A study on nasal irrigation versus another virus
A study published in January 2019 in the journal Nature, found researchers pitting nasal irrigation against another upper respiratory virus — the common cold.
And the truth is that while getting a cold isn’t in the same ballpark as ending up with COVID-19, their results do provide some interesting insights.
First, they found that patients who used nasal irrigation after infection reported fewer symptoms. In short, they just didn’t get as sick.
Second, when they used nasal irrigation, patients took far less over-the-counter medications.
And finally, nasal irrigation shortened the duration of the virus.
So, while there has yet to be a head-to-head test against coronavirus, we do know that nasal irrigation can be beneficial for those suffering from upper respiratory infections that start in the nasal passages and sinuses.
A few warnings
If you do decide to try out nasal irrigation, there are a few warnings from the experts to consider.
Per the Food and Drug Administration, the safest types of water to use include:
- Distilled or sterile water, which you can buy in stores. The label will state “distilled” or “sterile.”
- Boiled and cooled tap water — boiled for 3 to 5 minutes, then cooled until it is lukewarm. Previously boiled water can be stored in a clean, closed container for use within 24 hours.
Most neti pots or sinus rinse bottles come with instructions on how to perform nasal irrigation, but you can also find some how-to specifics provided here by the FDA.
If there is the possibility you could be infected with coronavirus, be sure no one else is near while you perform nasal irrigation because running saline water through your sinuses could aerosolize droplets. If you already have an infection, it could spread to those around you.
And you also want to make sure to disinfect both your sinus rinse bottle and the room around you (sink, bathroom counter, etc.) after irrigation for that same reason — preventing viral spread.
This can be done by wiping things with 70 percent isopropyl alcohol and air drying. It’s important to make sure your net pot is dry after cleaning it if you use alcohol, so you don’t cause irritation to your sinuses.
It looks like life may be returning to normal soon and the COVID-19 threat is diminishing in most areas of the country. But, with experts warning we could be dealing with the coronavirus during flu seasons to come, trying to find natural ways to increase protection is necessary.
Stay safe and make the decision that’s right for you.
- Saline Nasal Irrigation for Upper Respiratory Conditions — Am Fam Physician
- Should You Still Rinse Your Sinuses During The COVID-19 Outbreak? — Henry Ford Health System
- A pilot, open labelled, randomised controlled trial of hypertonic saline nasal irrigation and gargling for the common cold — Scientific Reports
- Nasal Irrigation Is the Key to Reducing COVID-19 Progression, Doctor Says — Best Life