Over the past four years, I’ve become an evangelist of sorts. What I’m preaching certainly won’t save your soul, but then again, if you’re not sick at home and confined to bed, you might just be freed up for doing whatever it is that will set you on the path of righteousness. So who knows? I could very well be an instrument of Mysterious Ways.
As it stands, no one our household has suffered a headcold or allergic discomfort in nearly five years, which is especially impressive when you consider that my daughters spend five days a week in the petri dish of public school. We’re generally healthy and hygienic people, but I have to attribute a great deal of our successful run to the regular use of a neti pot. Once I’ve gotten into my sermon, at least four times a year, I get asked, “What’s a neti pot?”
So, here is my take on the answer to The Answer:
As my layman’s understanding guides me, it’s basically that allergens – dust, dander, pollen, what have you – settle in your sinuses and cause an inflammatory response. This manifests as stuffiness, runniness, and pressure, which causes headaches, earaches, fatigue, and that general crap feeling that sends us to the bottle or blister pack of our favorite antihistamine. A dose later and you are, in effect, trading one rotten feeling (sleepiness and loopiness) for another.
Rhinovirus (the common cold) works in a similar way, but it also hunkers down to the business of replication, turning your front sinuses into an evil incubator until, in addition to the aggravated inflammation, your body also has to produce fever and marshal up the rest of its attack force, which brings on aches, pain, fatigue, and lots of mucus. And, of course, more over the counter medicine that switches out symptoms for side effects.
The neti pot is a thousand year old remedy that allowed Hindus to practice their ritual breathing comfortably, but it works on a brilliantly simple premise: rinse out the allergens and rhinovirus and they will not have a chance to irritate and replicate.
So now, all you have to do is head to your local drugstore or upscale grocery (Greenlife, Whole Foods, Earthfare, that sort of thing.) The nice grocers are more likely to have the ceramic neti pots, which I prefer, but the plastic ones work fine too and are good for traveling. The premixed saline packets are handy, or the formula is 1/2 liter of warm water mixed with 1 teaspoon non-iodized sea salt and a pinch of baking soda. (The trick is to get enough salt – too little, counterintuitivey, burns like hell.) I prefer to boil my water first (see addendum at the top of this article – boiling the water is a very good idea), but many people do just fine with tap water. It sort of depends on the local chlorine levels and individual tolerance. You can safely do several neti pots a day if you find yourself sick or particularly vulnerable at certain times of the year.
There are plenty of videos on youtube showing how it works, but really you just tilt your head over the sink, pour the water into one nostril and let it run out the other. Halfway through the pot, you switch sides. Here’s a good, quick video that manages not to be gross. Relief is nearly instant and there are no side effects.
The first few times, you may have to rein yourself in. It feels a bit scary, but my youngest has been doing it since she was four years old and she’s not particularly brave.
Here are a few tips that you should keep in mind:
– do get enough salt into the mix: 1tsp to 500ml of water (the premixed packets are good for one full neti pot of water)
-do not swallow while pouring the neti pot through. This can force water into your ears and that does not feel good.
-have tissues handy; blow gently when you switch sides
-if the water doesn’t flow freely, relax, that just means your sinuses are swollen. Give it a minute and they’ll give way.
-take your neti pot on trips (plastic ones and prepackaged solution are great for this.) It is so easy to get sick on an airplane. Do your neti pot as soon as you disembark. Seriously, it could save your vacation.
I find it best to do every day. It’s like brushing my teeth and I just do it as a matter of course before bedtime. It’s wonderful to breathe easily when you lay down to sleep. But if you don’t make it a daily routine, do it at the *very first* sign of a headcold. Once the virus gets a chance to replicate, it’s an uphill battle. Same with allergies. (Two people I know have been able to completely give up their daily allergy medication after they switched to the neti pot.)
Hope it works for you!