Nasal cleaning may keep sniffles away


Published: Thursday, December 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 30, 2005 at 3:28 p.m.
Can you really cure the common cold just by swishing salt water through your nose? Yogis have been swearing by it for ages. Now, even Americans who've never said ''om'' are saying ''ah'' after trying the ancient Indian art of nose washing.
To get at the source of their stuffiness, nose washers use a tool that looks like a tiny Aladdin's lamp, called a neti pot. They fill the pot with warm salt water, then ever-so-gently insert the tip of the spout into one nostril. Then they tip back the pot and let the waters flow.
As the warm stream swishes through one side of the nose, loops around the sinuses and pours back out the other nostril, the salty solution washes away mold, pollen and dust. Gross? Sure. Effective? For many, it's the holy grail of sinus relief.
''The first time I saw someone wash their nose two years ago, I thought, 'I am so not doing that,' '' said Monica Groth, 26, a meditation accessories business owner from Colby, Wis. But Groth was so tired of getting colds year after year that she tried it anyway. She's been rinsing and draining - and free of colds, she says - ever since. ''Just think of all the grime we breathe in every day,'' she said.
A number of nose-washing products are making their way to the market. The makers of a product called SinuCleanse began selling neti pots and a saline mix three years ago in Walgreens stores. This fall, they will also supply pharmacies like CVS, Rite Aid, Duane Reade, Longs and Eckerd, where the funny-looking pots can be found in the decongestant aisle. Nasopure, which looks more like a squeeze bottle than a teapot, had sales last year of nearly $50,000 - 10 times more than when it hit the market three years ago. The Himalayan Institute, which manufactures the traditional neti pot, says its sales increased 29 percent last year without any paid advertising.
For those new to nose washing, the biggest complaint is that it can hurt. A stinging sensation can result from using too much pressure or not enough salt, or from accidentally shooting the mixture straight down the back of the throat.
But for some sufferers, natural solutions are still not enough.
Benjamin Solomon, a 30-year-old student in New York, was puffy-eyed and sneezing throughout most of pollen season last spring, but he didn't want to take any drugs that would make him feel more fuzzy and tired than he already was. That's when he tried nose washing for the first time. For four days he religiously rinsed and drained, morning, noon and night. Still, he couldn't find relief. ''The nasal wash alone wasn't doing the job,'' he said. ''I still had to resort to medication so I could function and get some sleep.''
Jim Donaldson, a marketing communications director from St. Louis, says practice makes perfect. ''You remember when you were a kid and you went swimming and you got water up your nose?'' he said. ''That's how it feels at first. It takes a couple of times to get used to it.''
Donaldson, a one-time ski instructor who endured seasonal dry sinuses and intense allergies, tried nose washing four years ago and has been hooked ever since. ''I was afraid I was going to spend the rest of my life on Claritin,'' he said. ''Now, the problem is gone.''
Several medical studies have shown that nose washing not only eases cold and allergy symptoms, but it can also reduce the need for over-the-counter medications.
Scientists at the University of Wisconsin Medical School-Madison recently reported that among 150 people who were followed for 18 months, a third took fewer pills as a result of daily nose washing.
Douglas Ross, associate professor of otolaryngology at the Yale University School of Medicine, said that while nose washing is safe for anyone, including children and pregnant women, there is an even better daily habit for preventing the common cold. ''Frequent hand washing has a more important role in reducing colds than nasal irrigation,'' Ross said.
But for some sufferers, natural solutions are still not enough.
Benjamin Solomon, a 30-year-old student in New York, was puffy-eyed and sneezing throughout most of pollen season last spring, but he didn't want to take any drugs that would make him feel more fuzzy and tired than he already was. That's when he tried nose washing for the first time. For four days he religiously rinsed and drained, morning, noon and night. Still, he couldn't find relief. ''The nasal wash alone wasn't doing the job,'' he said. ''I still had to resort to medication so I could function and get some sleep.''
Donaldson says he hasn't had a cold or allergy symptom since he started nose washing four years ago. But he warns there is one side effect to consider: the ''creep-out'' factor. ''It's not the most attractive thing, watching your wife do it,'' he said. ''I highly recommend doing it in complete privacy.''

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