It appears there’s a bug going around the Persephone offices, which is remarkable considering we don’t actually have an office. Selena was knocked out earlier this week, and I think because we spend so much internet time together she managed to transmit her germs to me via a series of underground tubes. With that in mind, I thought I’d share one of my home remedies that seem to be a little misunderstood: nasal irrigation. If you’re the type of person who gets grossed out by bodily fluids (or perhaps even the term “bodily fluids”), it may be time for you to politely take your leave. I’m going to be using words like mucus and boogers and might be describing said mucus and boogers in detail.
First off, this isn’t some new, crazy thing I’m talking about. This method is pretty much as old as time itself. You may have heard of neti pots. This is one of the simplest and oldest methods of nasal irrigation, and their roots are traced back to the Hindu practice of Ayurveda natural medicine. Neti pots are certainly the simplest way to irrigate your nose; they have a long spout that you put in one nostril, then tilt your head forward and let gravity do the work of moving the water from one nostril to the other, hopefully taking some nastiness with it.
The other method for this is a flexible plastic bottle (pictured at right) that you squeeze in order to create the flow of water. This is what I use. I just find it easier to be able to keep my head/face upright while I do it. But, whichever you find preferable is fine. Neither one is more difficult to use than the other, and both can be found at major drug stores like CVS or Rite Aid. Don’t use plain tap water; in order to match the salt content of your body, you dissolve a small packet of salty stuff into the water and let it dissolve before using it. Most neti pots or bottles will come with these packets. I believe you can get refills at the drug store as well.
So, down to the gross stuff. You’re probably wondering what it feels like to shoot saltwater in one nostril and out the other. And, you may also be wondering what unspeakable things come out of your nose when you do this. I will elaborate further, but here’s the short version: it is unpleasant, though less unpleasant than walking around with a stuffed-up head. And while gross things do indeed come out of your nose, it’s actually nice to watch them slide down the sink and into the drain, knowing that they’re out of your body.
Let’s slow it down. So here you are, stuffed up with either a cold or with seasonal allergies, neti pot or bottle in hand, facing your bathroom sink. Ideally, you’ve just showered, because the hot steam from the shower helps soften the boogers. Also, while you’re rather congested, you should make sure there’s at least a smidge of air that can pass through your nostril or else the water will have nowhere to go except down your throat and out your mouth. Dissolve the salt into warm (not hot!) water, and you’re ready to go. You should hold your breath while you do it, because you really don’t want to accidentally swallow any of this stuff.
As you either lean forward with the pot, or (gently!) squeeze the bottle, you’re going to feel an increase of pressure in your nose and possibly the back of your throat. You’re going to have the urge to spit a lot, which is fine. Also you might end up assisting the pot or bottle by doing a bit of a snot-rocket. Also OK. Whatever you need to do. Anyway, once you feel an increase in pressure, followed by a drop in pressure: look down, because you’re about to see some awesome grossness in the sink. It’s like you just gave birth to a booger.
Once the water’s all gone, you should stop. You may think you need to do more, but it really isn’t recommended. If you couldn’t get anything to come out on the first try, you probably shouldn’t force it by going at it again. After you’re done, wash or rinse the pot/bottle in hot water right away. Also there might still be some water up in your nose, so have a few tissues ready for the first few minutes afterwards.
If you end up needing to irrigate a few mornings in a row, you’re going to find that the experience gets less weird and uncomfortable the more often you do it. Also, you get to literally watch the mucus that comes out of your nose go from an indescribable greenish color to clear as you gradually get better. If ends up feeling oddly satisfying ““ not just getting that stuff out of there, but knowing that you’re taking care of yourself in a time-tested, natural way. You may still need some OTC drugs to get through whatever ailment you’ve got, but a neti pot or bottle can be a huge help.
The only caveat that I’ll give is that I’ve seen a few warnings about prolonged daily practice of nasal irrigation. What a shock: as is the case with just about everything in life, this is best done in moderation. The idea seems to be that the constant flushing of the nasal cavity strips away the natural layer of protective mucus. Also, if you’re at a point that you’re needing to flush out your nose every day, there might be a chronic problem that’s worth getting checked out by a doctor.