Washing the inside of the nose with saline is a well-regarded measure widely prescribed by doctors to relieve symptoms of cold and allergic rhinitis. As part of regular hygiene, nasal washing could also help in keeping the nasal passages clean and preventing illness by flushing away irritants such as dirt, dust, and infectious agents like bacteria and viruses.
Nasal washing is commonly done either with a saline spray or large volume saline irrigation, each with its own set of benefits suited for the right condition.
Saline spray: the convenience of a handy and ready-to-use nasal wash
Saline sprays provide a convenient and practical method of washing and clearing nasal passages. Spraying saline solution into the nose loosens thick mucus secretions and help in mucus drainage and removal. It also restores vital moisture to the nasal tissues and provide relief for dry, crusted, irritated and inflamed nasal membranes caused by the following:
- Cold, runny nose, allergies
- Dry air from air-conditioners, cold weather or airplane flights
- Dust, pollutants
- Overuse of nasal decongestants
- Use of steroid nasal spray
- Post nasal drip
- Rebound sinus reaction from drugs and smog
Saline sprays are readily available as handy devices convenient for use at home, at work or even during travel. Patients must also be advised to apply the nasal spray away from crowds in order to avoid spreading any infectious material which may drain out of the nose.
Sinonasal Irrigation: a deep and thorough nasal wash
Sinonasal irrigation is a method of introducing a large volume of solution into the nose and sinuses to achieve a deeper and more thorough wash. The approach is best done using a positive and low pressure to safely direct the fluid into the nose and other areas in the sinus cavities beyond the reach of typical nasal sprays. This clears away any irritating and infectious material as the fluid drains out from the other nostril.
Sinonasal irrigation is indicated for conditions with a heavier burden of mucus, irritating agents and infectious microbes. It is also particularly useful for patients before and after diagnostic or surgical procedures involving the nose and sinuses. Sinonasal irrigation clears away debris like encrusted mucus or blood that may be hindering the procedure or wound healing.
Sinonasal irrigation kits usually come with an irrigating bottle and packets of mineral salts ready for mixing with water to create a balanced solution suitable for the delicate nasal tissues.
Should I spray or irrigate?
Both saline spray and irrigation operate on the principle of hydrating and cleansing the sinonasal passages. The points of difference mainly lie on the convenience of use and depth of reach in the sinonasal passages. Saline sprays have the convenience of being handy and ready-to-use. Meanwhile, large volume sinonasal irrigation allows for a deeper and more thorough wash of the sinonasal passages. These two methods may however be used together allowing for a regular and on-demand nasal washing.
Consult your doctor to determine the treatment plan best suited for your condition.
Principi N, Esposito S. Nasal Irrigation: An Imprecisely Defined Medical Procedure. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017;14(5):516. Published 2017 May 11. doi:10.3390/ijerph14050516