Nasal Irrigation Makes Comeback as Cold Remedy

An age-old technique that may have developed from yoga traditions is turning out to be a simple and effective way to combat the cold. Flushing the nasal passageway with warm salt-water can help prevent colds and bring relief to allergy-sufferers.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

Our segment on personal health begins today with the common cold. It can be a tough bug to fight off. Antibiotics don't work, and other medications simply temper the symptoms. An age-old technique that may have developed from yoga traditions is turning out to be a simple and effective way to combat the cold. NPR's Patricia Neighmond reports.

PATRICIA NEIGHMOND reporting:

The technique involved irrigating the nose and sinus passages in much the same way one irrigates the ears. Dr. Marc Riedl is an allergy expert at UCLA. He says you start with a simple mixture.

Dr. MARC RIEDL (Allergy Expert, UCLA): There are recipes to make homemade saline. You can take water, put salt in it, and you can even hold it in your hand and sniff it up. (Sniffs)

NEIGHMOND: Or you can use a round rubber-bulbed syringe, like the one that irrigates the ears, fill the syringe with saltwater, insert the tube end into the nose and squeeze. The water goes up into the nose and then through the sinus cavities.

Dr. RIEDL: It can drain back out the front of the nose, but it can also go back into the back of the throat, and people either swallow it or end up spitting it out that way.

NEIGHMOND: The saltwater literally washes away the environment that harbors the cold. It softens up impacted mucus which blocks sinus passages. It rinses out allergen particles and washes away inflammatory cells that cause congestion.

Dr. RIEDL: Maybe the neatest thing that's actually been shown lately is that the saline wash actually stimulates your natural cilia to beat more vigorously and do a better job of clearing those particles. So you have these tiny hairs in your sinuses and in your respiratory tract that naturally clean out mucus and particles and things that irritate the airways, and it appears that putting saltwater in the sinuses actually stimulates those tiny hairs to do a better job of clearing those things in a sort of natural way.

Open up for me. Say, `Ah.'

Ms. CHERRY HESPRIK(ph) (Patient): Ah.

Dr. RIEDL: Real big, `Ah.'

Ms. HESPRIK: Ah.

Dr. RIEDL: Good. Let me look in your nose.

NEIGHMOND: Cherry Hesprik has been a patient of Riedl's for a number of years. Hesprik gets a lot of colds, and lately she's been using an updated version of the rubber syringe. It's a machine that pulsates the water up into the nose.

Ms. HESPRIK: Looks like a little rubber stopper that you insert in the nose and you lean over, and it's like putting water in your nose when you go swimming. It doesn't feel good, but it goes through one nostril and comes out the other.

NEIGHMOND: The process takes Hesprik about two minutes. It may not feel great, but she does it every day, she says, because it works.

Ms. HESPRIK: My low point is my ears. So my ears--I have got lost hearing because I've had so many infections. So what this has done is it sort of keeps everything at bay, and I've actually gotten to the point that I have veered off infections.

NEIGHMOND: Hesprik doesn't get nearly the number of colds she used to. She credits the nasal irrigation. Studies have found the technique does prevent colds and diminishes allergy symptoms, and more and more people like Hesprik use the method every day during cold season, and the market's responding. There are more and more sophisticated nasal irrigation machines available. Some use a gentle mist which is promoted as more comfortable than a direct spray of water. But not all have been subjected to thorough scientific study. Patricia Neighmond, NPR News.

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