Nasal irrigation or nasal lavage is the personal hygiene practice in which the nasal cavity is washed to flush out excess mucus and debris while moistening the mucus membranes of the nose and sinuses. It has been practised in India for centuries as one of the disciplines of yoga. Clinical testing has shown that this is safe and beneficial with no significant side effects.
The technique may be as simple as snorting water from cupped hands but more elaborate methods use a pot, squeeze bottle or syringe to pour or squirt the water into a nostril. The water then either runs out of the other nostril or goes through the sinuses to the back of the throat from where it may be spat out.
Plain cold water may be used but this may irritate the sensitive mucous membranes in the nose. Warm salt water is commonly used with a buffering agent such as sodium bicarbonate. Hypertonic solutions which are more salty than the nasal fluids are favoured and one study indicated that salt from the Dead Sea was especially efficacious.
The benefits of the treatment include:
Daily nasal irrigation with salt water is therefore recommended as both an adjunctive and primary treatment in such cases.
In several countries, the sale of over-the-counter medicines for coughs and colds have been banned for infants under the age of two. Nasal irrigation is a useful safe alternative for relieving the symptoms of such young patients.
The use of nasal irrigation for the similar conditions of asthma, nasal polyposis and rhinitis of pregnancy has not been assessed but the symptoms of these conditions are expected to be alleviated in a similar way.
Nasal irrigation is an ancient Ayurvedic technique known as jala neti, which literally means nasal cleansing with water in Sanskrit, where the practitioner uses a neti pot to perform the irrigation. Because modern medicine has long supported the use of nasal irrigation to clear sinuses and prevent sinus and nasal conditions, physicians also accept jala neti as simply one type of nasal irrigation, which can be performed using a neti pot or syringe.
Jala neti, though relatively less known in Western culture, is a common practice in parts of India and other areas in South Asia, performed as routinely as brushing one's teeth using a toothbrush. It is performed daily, usually as the first thing in the morning with other cleansing practices. It may also be performed at the end of the day if one works or lives in a dusty or polluted environment. When dealing with problems of congestion it can be performed up to four times a day.