Have streams of salt water become the cure for the common cold?

By: Oct 17, 2011
saline rinse

When it comes to a cold or even reoccurring sinus and ear infections, a nasal flush is your best friend!

Islanders and inhabitants of coastal regions have long known that salt water from the ocean can help speed the healing of wounds. Recently, people everywhere have begun to realize the benefits of pH-balanced saline rinses. The human body is comprised of mostly water and minerals, so this natural and inexpensive remedy fits nicely with our physiognomy. As of yet, no one is selling tickets to the beach, however saline rinses are becoming more and more widely available.

The Nose Knows...

Everyone has experienced a stuffy nose and is familiar with going through reams of tissue paper and cartloads of cold medicines when symptoms are more severe, such as a seemingly uncontrollable runny nose. Swelling of the blood vessels and tissues in the nasal passages is to blame for our discomfort. This can happen even without any kind of allergy, as a reaction to dust, smoke or myriad other irritants.

Saline rinses, also known as saline lavages, are administered nasally, as their main benefit is the lessening of cold symptoms by making mucus more motile. Saline rinses are also known to have positive and even preventative effects on sinus infections and sore throats. A recent clinical study of two groups of children with severe allergies compared the use of saline rinses between three and six times a day versus a control group that used pharmaceuticals. The kids who used the saline rinse were measurably better off at the end of the study than were those who used over-the-counter cold medicines. 

What's In a Rinse?

The word saline (of Anglo-French origin in the word salin) simply means that which is salty. A home-brewed saline solution would contain one cup of water to about one teaspoon of salt (without iodine) and just a dash of baking soda. The baking soda is added to prevent burning, and is an ingredient you'll be glad you included when spritzing your sinuses with a jet of warm alkaline solution! Many ready-made rinses are commercially available in powdered form as well, just mix with the indicated amount of water and you're off to the races.

Administration of the rinse can be performed with a lavage bottle or bulb. The bulb is necessary for infants, in whom cold symptoms can sometimes be life threatening and active participation in the process is unlikely. For adults, after a thorough hand cleaning, the saline lavage bottle should be filled to the prescribed level with warm water. It's important not to overheat the water, for obvious reasons. Next, the pH-balanced saline packet is combined with the water and the mixture is shaken, not stirred. Then, the fun part begins: one leans over a bathtub or sink, opens their mouth (but continues breathing), and softly applies pressure to either side of the bottle until the solution runs gently through the nasal passages and out of the opposite nostril. People usually like to blow their noses after this step, then switch the bottle to the other side, rinse and repeat! Naturally, the lavage bottle should be cleaned well and air dried between uses.