An Overview of Nasal Saline Sprays

Benefits and Risks You Should Know About

Woman using nasal spray
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Saline nasal sprays are a great option for anyone who has congestion and wants to clear out their sinuses without medication. It is easy to use and effective, although sometimes the effects are short-lived. It can be used to moisten the nasal passages or to irrigate the sinuses. Nasal saline spray is also great for children and infants who are too young for cold medications.

Saline nasal sprays help flush pollen, dust, and other debris from the nasal passages. Because microorganisms cannot thrive is saline, they help reduce the risk of infection. They also help remove excess mucus (snot) and adds moisture to nasal and sinus tissues. 

Benefits and Risks

Nasal saline sprays can provide relief of congestion when a cold or upper respiratory infection occurs. It is also useful for people who suffer allergies nearly year-round. By opening up nasal passages, it can help prepare the nose for irrigation with a neti pot.

Nasal saline spray or drops are often recommended for infants and young children who are too young for over-the-counter cold medications. They help thin out the mucus so that is it easier to blow the nose or extract mucus with a bulb syringe.

The major downside to using nasal saline sprays is that the effects don't last very long. When you have a cold, you are constantly producing more mucous. While saline spray may clear it out temporarily, it doesn't work long-term. 

Also, using saline nasal sprays in children and infants can difficult. Young children don't typically like having liquids places in their noses and may resist and make the process difficult.

Saline nasal sprays should be avoided following nasal or sinus surgery. Saline may cause some sutures to dissolve prematurely. If you experience congestion following nasal surgery, ask your surgeon which types of nasal spray or oral medications are appropriate.

Pros

  • Easy to use

  • Inexpensive

  • Non-medicated

  • Effective

  • Safe for all ages

Cons

  • May be uncomfortable for children and infants

  • Effects are short-lived

  • Possible disruption of sutures after nasal surgery

Formulations

Nasal saline solutions come in a variety of brands and bottle types (sprays, droppers, etc.) but are all relatively inexpensive. They are a clean, safe alternative to decongestants, many of which cannot be used for more than three days. Saline sprays, by contrast, can be used on an ongoing basis.

Always use a saline nasal spray as directed. Because nasal sprays contain no medicine, there is really no concern about side effects or interactions with other medications you may be taking. Avoid saline nasal sprays if you are bleeding as this may cause stinging.

Some saline sprays contain preservatives that may cause irritation. Generally speaking, these are not necessary. Saline sprays tend to have a long shelf life without them (although you should probably throw them out after six months).

Other products that help clear out the sinuses without using medication include neti pots and NeilMed Sinus Rinse. These use saline solutions just like the saline spray but deliver a larger dose to help irrigate the sinuses more thoroughly. 

Always clean neti pots and nasal bulbs thoroughly with soap and water after every use to prevent bacterial growth. Rinse thoroughly and allow to air dry.

Homemade Saline Rinse

Saline rinses are relatively inexpensive, but you can make your own at home if you'd like with three ingredients you may already have on hand:

  • 1 teaspoon (5 grams) of non-iodinated canning or pickling salt
  • A pinch of baking soda
  • 2 cups (0.5 liters) of warm distilled, filtered, or boiled water

Never use water out of the tap is it may contain microorganisms that thrive long enough to cause infection.

How to Use a Nasal Rinse

  1. Tilt your head to the side.
  2. Gently pour the solution into the upper nostril. The water should come out the lower nostril.
  3. Repeat on the other side.
  4. Gently blow the nose to remove any mucus and water.
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