Thursday, April 23, 2009

Breathe Easy

Spring is finally springing with sunnier days, crocuses popping up from the bleak prairie, songbirds greeting the morn, and grass sprouting up faster than the thermometer. Can there be a more optimistic time of year? It would all be perfect but for one thing: allergy season is here, too.

Only a couple years ago, I would have begun a daily regimen of over-the-counter allergy medication. Aside from the $80+ cost per month, I was concerned about their long-term effects on my health. So, when a friend told me about the Neti-pot, I knew I had to give it a try. After one use, and the immediate relief that provided, I became a passionate devotee to the practice.

The Neti-pot has been used in India for centuries as a treatment for sinusitis. Neti is taken from the Sanskrit words, Neti Kriya, which means nasal cleansing. Neti-pots, once hard to find in North America, have become increasingly popular and can now be found in many health and drug stores. They look much like little teapots, but don't try to be thrifty – as I did, when I couldn't find one in our local stores – and try to substitute. Neti-pots have a nicely rounded spout that won't hurt the nostrils like a teapot will. Take it from someone who learned that the hard way!

Neti-pots are inexpensive, running between $10 for plastic and up to $40 for the ceramic models. Well worth the price, considering I no longer use allergy medications. That's right. Use of the Neti-pot completely alleviates all my allergy symptoms. This may not work for people with extreme allergies, but if your allergies are mild, I strongly urge you to give this a try. To read more about this, check out the New York Times Health-section article on nasal irrigation: http://tinyurl.com/dfa6av

A lukewarm saline solution, called jala neti in Sanskrit, is poured through one nostril, then the other. You can purchase special salt from the same stores where Neti-pots are sold, or you can use salt from your kitchen. Do NOT use "iodized" salts though, as the minerals in it will sting the delicate nasal membranes. I use pulverized kosher salt, 1/4 teaspoon mixed with 1 cup of hot (filtered) water, and stirred well until completely dissolved. If I'm in a hurry, due to sinus pain or irritation, I dissolve the salt in a couple tablespoons of boiling water, and then add room temperature water. I prefer to use filtered water as it contains no bleach, fluoride, or other impurities that may sting the nasal passages. To check the temperature, pour a drop onto your wrist much like testing a baby bottle.

When the solution is ready:

  1. Bend over the sink (or a bowl) and tilt your head to one side.
  2. Press the Neti-pot spout up against the upper nostril and begin pouring slowly. If you have a sinus blockage, you may feel slight pressure as the water builds up behind it. The blockage should quickly release, though, and the solution will wind its way through the nasal passages and out the lower nostril. Breathe through your mouth during the process.
  3. Once you've poured half of the solution through one nostril, repeat steps 1 & 2 and pour the remaining solution through the other nostril.
  4. After both sides have been irrigated, GENTLY blow your nose from both nostrils at once. Do not blow too energetically.

Though this procedure may sound alarming, it is not as invasive as you might think. There is no discomfort if done properly, and the relief gained is well worth the ick-factor. Just make sure to keep your head low during the process, so the solution won't trickle down the post-nasal passage.