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Do Saline Rinses Work?

By Expert HERWriter
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Sinus Infection related image Photo: Getty Images

Have you heard of the saline rinse? It involves a device that looks a little like a tiny tea pot inserted into your nostril to gently flush or rinse out your sinus cavities of debris, pollen, bacteria and ... well ... snot.

Many people, from Oprah to Ellen, have touted its benefits. In fact, there is an entire YouTube section dedicated to showing viewers a step-by-step guide if you search for it. Many pharmacies are carrying various forms of nasal rinses from the classic ‘Neti Pot’ to the ‘Rhino Horn,’ and many people are reporting huge success in their chronic allergy or sinus symptoms.

But does it work?

Anecdotally, most all people who try it report symptom relief, especially if done in the acute illness. In the October 2011 Journal for Nurse Practitioners, researchers scanned the literature and reported with saline irrigation in the treatment of rhinosinusitis, “Until further research is conducted to refute this practice, the treatment mode provides a safe and economically astute alternative to the costly conventional treatments available ...” In layman’s terms, thumbs up on trying it.

In the 2009 American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology Annual Scientific Meeting, researchers recommended nasal irrigation for short term use only such as a week to ten days, or for six to eight weeks after surgery. They report daily use for a full twelve months removes even healthy mucus in the sinus cavity and can create repeat infections.

Mucus acts as a trap for infection, pollen, and bacteria so it is important not to wash it away every day unless in the middle of allergy season or when starting a cold/sinus infection. They are careful to point out that at some point the saline irrigation may not work in an acute infection and you may need stronger therapy.

In 2003, researchers at the Scientific Assembly of the American Academy of Family Physicians reported daily use of a saline nasal rinse reduced a lot of the symptoms involved in sinusitis including the need for antibiotics. Again in 2006, researchers agreed that “(hypertonic saline nasal irrigation) is a safe, well-tolerated, inexpensive, effective, long-term therapy that patients with chronic sinonasal symptoms can and will use at home with minimal training and follow-up.”

What does this mean for you?

Try it! If you are experiencing chronic nasal issues, repeat sinus infections, or find allergy season to be particularly challenging, then talk with your health care provider or do research into nasal irrigation as you may find a great deal of relief.

Remember that it does take some practice. Don’t give up if you use it once and find yourself sputtering water everywhere. Keep trying, in the name of your nose.



1. Are Saline Irrigations Effective in Relieving Chronic Rhinosinusitis Symptoms? Web. Oct. 12, 2011.

2. Daily Nasal Saline Irrigation Not Recommended for Long-Term Use. Web. Oct. 12, 2011.

3. Saline Nasal Irrigation Reduces Symptoms, Severity of Sinusitis. Web. Oct. 12, 2011.

4. Qualitative Aspects of Nasal Irrigation Use by Patients With Chronic Sinus Disease in a Multimethod Study. Web. Oct. 12, 2011.

Reviewed October 12, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment3 Comments

In theory, it's great...But if your nose is already blocked, it's impossible to rinse through to the other side.

November 14, 2011 - 8:43am
EmpowHER Guest

Saline irrigation does not penetrate into the sinus cavities unless the patient has had sinus surgery (FESS), or balloon dilation, or is standing on thier head. Ask an ENT....

October 14, 2011 - 2:00pm

I LOVE saline rinses! At first it felt weird and was hard to get used to, but you really have to open up your sinuses, and let the water go where it will (sometimes out of your mouth, or the other side of your nose)! You get used to it, and the clear feeling you get afterwards it totally worth it!

October 12, 2011 - 7:21pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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