RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Now some help for the nose, and sinuses. To help adults ease congestion, NPR's Allison Aubrey reports on a technique used by many singers.
ALLISON AUBREY: No one likes to have a runny nose or a stuffed-up head. But for performers, like aspiring opera singer Kyle Malone, congestion is a real showstopper.
Mr. KYLE MALONE (Opera Singer): If you're stuck on the day of the performance and you have a cold, it's a dangerous thing.
AUBREY: Since his voice is his instrument. In order to keep his head free of congestion, Malone uses a trick of the trade, which basically involves shooting salty water up his nose, and into his sinus passages. Malone has agreed to demonstrate this. But first, he wants to warm up his voice.
Mr. MALONE: In any Bugs Bunny cartoon where they make fun of operas singers, I think that it has a certain amount of truth in it, where you just pretty much do scales like (singing scales)...
AUBREY: Hitting these notes with clarity and resonance is not something he takes for granted. As a kid, he was prone to sinus problems.
Mr. MALONE: That's pretty much what we do.
AUBREY: At least to get the day started. Next in his routine, nasal irrigation. One of his former roommates, also a singer, taught him how to do it several years ago.
Mr. MALONE: I actually had come home and seen him doing it. And I was like, what in the world are doing? Because it, it is a very strange looking procedure, you hunched over the sink and pouring saline into your nostril.
AUBREY: But after trying it himself, Malone says he was hooked. It takes just a few minutes each day. He fills a small, bowl-shaped container with water, then stirs in a store-bought package of SinuCleanse powder, which is just a mixture of salt.
Mr. MALONE: Well, I will actually push the water into my nose.
AUBREY: With the volume and force, the water flushes out the gunk that can irritate nasal and sinus passages.
Mr. MALONE: So here we go. You can actually feel your sinuses getting filled up.
AUBREY: Within a few seconds, the water starts to trickle out the opposite nostril.
Mr. MALONE: It's pretty simple and pretty easy.
AUBREY: And do you feel a little burn?
Mr. MALONE: Absolutely not. At least not for me. There's no burn.
AUBREY: What he does feel, he says, almost immediately is the sense that he's breathing freer.
Mr. MALONE: It's just a good feeling, like everything's clear. Like if you had a lot of wasabi or something. You feel your sinuses instantly cleared and opened up.
AUBREY: Saline irrigation has gone mainstream in recent years. Drugstore shelves now carry several brands, and there's research to suggest it works. In one small study, David Robago of the University of Wisconsin recruited two groups of sinus sufferers. Half were trained to use nasal irrigation daily, the others didn't use it at all.
Mr. DAVID ROBAGO (University of Wisconsin): The group that used the nasal irrigation improved a lot compared to the group that didn't.
AUBREY: On average, their symptoms of congestion and head pain improved about 30 to 40 percent. Now, if you're thinking about trying nasal irrigation, experts say it's important not to confuse it with the saline sprays or mists, which are also available in the drugstore. Physician Suzette Mikula, who's an ears, nose and throat specialist at Georgetown University, says these sprays are less potent and should really be thought of as a way of moisturizing.
Dr. SUZETTE MIKULA (Georgetown University): So if you have dryness in the wintertime, which often we do because of heat, a nasal spray would be very effective.
AUBREY: Jessica Tomback of Washington, D.C. says everyone in her family, including the kids, has a bottle of saline spray.
Ms. JESSICA TOMBACK: We use it multiple, multiple times a day when they have a cold. And when I use it, I feel much better. When I have a stuffy nose and I used it, I feel like it gets a lot out.
AUBREY: The difference between the saline sprays and the irrigation is that the spray is really just the equivalent of putting a foggy mist in your nose. It may loosen things up but it won't force them out. Irrigation is like flushing a river of water through your nose and sinuses, which Kyle Malone says seems to make him less vulnerable to congestion and more resonant as a singer.
Mr. MALONE: (Singing) The most beautiful sound I ever heard, Maria...
AUBREY: Allison Aubrey, NPR News, Washington.