How to clean your nose

Meryl Davids Landau

All the allergy websites insist the pollen count is currently low where I live. After scrambling from one site to another, desperate to find the one that would explain why my sinuses were so stuffed I couldn’t smell the tomato soup simmering on the stove, I had only one explanation: They’re liars!

Alas, that didn’t help the throbbing in my head. A few weeks earlier, this sinus thing had even cost me time and money. I had gone to my dentist to get a tooth checked, because the dull ache under my lower left crown was unrelenting. He took an x-ray, didn’t see anything, so sent me to an endodontist (I didn’t even know such a thing existed) to be certain. She concluded it was likely from allergy-packed sinuses. (At least I knew not to go to an eye doctor when, subsequently, my right peeper started pounding.)

Even though I’ve had seasonal allergies on and off for years, I’d never had sinus pain before, so I figured it would go away on its own. Instead, whatever was plugging up the tubes behind my face got progressively more jammed, like what a car crash does to highway traffic. It reminded me of my breastfeeding years, when I was always amazed that one tiny speck of dried milk was able to block all that eager liquid behind it.

I needed relief. (And this time I had no suckling baby to come to the rescue.) So I milled around the drugstore, amazed that there were so many products geared to easing congestion. Most were combinations of various ingredients. I’ve interviewed enough doctors for magazine health articles I’ve written to know it’s always best to start with the single-ingredient product and move up, as necessary, from there. I had the antihistamine pills in my hand and was on my way to the register when it hit me that what my sinuses were really calling out for was water. Or rather, salt water. To flood out whatever sticky stuff was in there.

In the past year I’d actually spoken to an ENT doc who said he sniffs salt water from his cupped hand in the shower each morning. I’d forgotten that until now. I raced home to wash my sinuses right away, then repeated the action that night. By morning I felt infinitely better. Now, one week (and 14 washes later), the pain is completely gone. Even better, I’m smelling and breathing better than I’ve done in the past four decades.

Here’s how I did it:

• Get a paper cup (or use your cupped hand like that doc does, or even buy a “nedi pot” sold for just this purpose).

• Fill it with lukewarm water and about half a teaspoon of salt.

• Either leaning over your sink or, better yet, while you’re taking your morning shower, tilt your head forward a bit (chin towards chest) and turn it sideways (one nostril up).

• Pour some of the water into the nostril and sniff it so it really gets up there.

• Stop and raise your head, feeling the water run through your pipes. Some will flow out your other nostril, while you’ll feel the rest in your throat. Just swallow that.

• Repeat that nostril till half the cup of water is gone.

• Switch and do the other side.

Consider giving it a whirl even if you don’t have raging sinus pain. I’m totally amazed by what completely clear sinuses feel like.

 If any of you try this, I’d love to hear how it goes. 

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