How Does Nasal Irrigation Work?

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Nasal irrigation, or a sinus flush, is the practice of rinsing out your nasal passageways. It is often used by individuals with sinus problems, allergies, or upper respiratory infections. It can remove germs or debris that can cause allergies, such as dust or pollen, as well as loosen thick mucus, enhance mucocilliary clearance (how the nose clears germs), and moisten the nasal passageways.

This article discusses how to perform a sinus flush safely and the potential risks involved.

Woman Using a Neti Pot

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How to Perform a Sinus Flush

Nasal irrigation can be performed using saline (sterile salt and water solution) or a similar sterile solution, and a neti pot, squeeze bottle, bulb syringe, medical syringe, or even a Waterpik oral irrigator.

Many people purchase a kit for nasal irrigation. These kits should come with detailed instructions, and many include a solution mix. Read all the instructions completely before proceeding.

Make sure the tip of your delivery device will fit safely and gently inside your nostril. This is for comfort and also so the fluid will not leak around it or cause any damage to the nostril.

Regardless of the device you are using, you will want to lean over a sink to avoid making a mess.

If you are using a neti pot:

  • Wash your hands.
  • Mix the solution and fill the pot.
  • Lean over the sink and turn your head to the side.
  • Insert the tip of the pot into the top nostril. The neti pot tip should be far enough up to form a seal but not so far up that it creates discomfort.
  • Tip the pot up until the solution flows out of the other nostril and you feel that the nasal passageways are clear.
  • Repeat this procedure on the other side.

If you are using a squeeze bottle or a medical syringe, follow the same steps, but instead of tipping the neti pot, you will simply squeeze the bottle or push on the syringe plunger to deliver the solution.

A Waterpik requires a special sinus irrigation tip. You should follow the instructions that comes with your device. Do not use a Waterpik if you have had sinus surgery, significant facial trauma, or a history of a cerebrospinal fluid leak.

Adults using the bulb syringe method for nasal irrigation are not using the same type of bulb syringe that is used to clear an infant's nose. The type of syringe needed is called an ear syringe, as it is typically used to remove earwax. It can usually be purchased at local pharmacies and should come with instructions.

You can ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist to demonstrate how the syringe is used. The procedure is the same as with other devices, in that you will flush the inside of the nasal passageways until the solution comes out of the opposite nostril.

Don't Be Concerned If . . .

Some solutions may sting a little bit, but most people who perform nasal irrigation regularly get used to this. Do not worry if you accidentally swallow small amounts of the solution.

Safety Tips

There are some safety tips to keep in mind when irrigating your nasal passageways, including:

  • Follow directions carefully to avoid introducing new germs into the nasal cavity.
  • Make sure your device is clean prior to use.
  • Use distilled, sterile water, saline, or water that has been boiled for at least five minutes and then allowed to cool. Do not use regular tap water.
  • Wash your hands before mixing the solution (if you are using a kit that comes with a packet that needs to be mixed).
  • Breathe out of your mouth.
  • Clean and dry your equipment after use.
  • Always consult your healthcare provider before starting nasal irrigations if you have had sinus surgery, significant facial trauma, or have a history of a cerebrospinal fluid leak.

What Not to Do

When performing a sinus flush, remember the following:

  • Do not use very hot or very cold water.
  • Do not use tap water.
  • Do not insert the device too far up your nose.

Potential Risks

While the risk is extremely low, it is possible to develop Naegleria fowleri infection from nasal irrigation. Naegleria fowleri is an amoeba that eats brain tissue. It must enter the body through the nose and is typically fatal.

Naegleria fowleri is found in contaminated fresh water, so this infection would only occur if it was in the water you used to perform the nasal irrigation. This is why it's essential to use sterile water or saline as opposed to tap water, which can introduce harmful substances.

This is not the only type of infection that may occur from nasal irrigation, so it's incredibly important to clean your equipment and use a sterile solution.

You may be more likely to get an infection if you have had facial trauma or do not have an intact nasal cavity from birth or because of injury or surgery. You should talk to your healthcare provider before doing a sinus flush if you have any of these conditions.

You should also consult with your healthcare provider if you have an impaired immune system.

Frequent Bloody Noses

If you are prone to bloody noses, it's possible that the insertion of the nasal irrigation device and disruption to the tissue of the nasal passageways may result in a bloody nose.

Summary

Nasal irrigation is a practice performed to clear out the nasal passageways, often used by people with allergies, sinus issues, or upper respiratory infections. It is performed by tipping a neti pot or squeezing a bottle, bulb syringe, medical syringe, or a Waterpik into the nostril with saline, sterile water, or a solution.

A Word From Verywell

If you suffer from clogged nasal passageways, you may be looking for relief. You can perform nasal irrigation at home to help relieve discomfort and remove germs and debris. Make sure you follow all the instructions carefully to ensure you are doing it properly and consult a healthcare provider, if needed.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Should you perform nasal irrigation on small children or infants?

    Nasal irrigation can be performed on infants and young children if recommended by your healthcare professional. However, some young children and infants may not tolerate the procedure. It is very important that the irrigation device is the correct size for your child's nostril.

  • Can I make my own saltwater solution for nasal irrigation?

    You will find many recipes online for solutions used in nasal irrigation. The most important factor is that you use sterile water, distilled water, saline, or recently boiled water that has cooled. Consult with your healthcare provider before deciding what solution to use, as the concentration of salt may influence how effective the procedure is.

  • How do I clean my nasal irrigation device?

    Unless the instructions on your device recommend another method, clean your device with dish soap and warm water. Dry the device as thoroughly as possible with a clean paper towel and then allow it to air dry.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S Food and Drug Administration. Is rinsing your sinuses with neti pots safe? Updated August 4, 2021.

  2. National Jewish Health. Nasal wash treatment. Updated February 2012.

  3. Sowerby LJ, Wright ED. Tap water or “sterile” water for sinus irrigations: what are our patients using? International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology. 2012;2(4):300-302. doi:10.1002/alr.21031

  4. Principi N, Esposito S. Nasal irrigation: an imprecisely defined medical procedureIJERPH. 2017;14(5):516. doi:10.3390/ijerph14050516