Sinusitis is a chronic condition in which the cavities around the nasal passages become inflamed often caused by a virus, allergy, bacteria, or fungus. In 2014 more than 29 million Americans were diagnosed with it which results in symptoms similar to a bad cold including headaches, facial pain, runny nose, and nasal congestion.
Treating it has always been a challenge but a new study has what may be the best way to beat back sinus disease. The study from the University of Southampton in England, researched two treatment methods doctors commonly recommend – steam inhalation or nasal irrigation – to see which one was the best for bringing relief to the sinuses.
The research team recruited 871 participants in England each with a history of chronic or recurrent sinusitis. Four different treatment methods were evaluated with each participant assigned to one of them. The four treatment methods were:
1. Daily nasal irrigation with saline plus use of an instructional video –a neti pot was used to irrigate their nose with 5 ounces of saline solution in each nostril.
2. Daily steam inhalation – a towel was placed over their head while standing over a bowl of recently boiled water for 5 minutes.
3. A combination of both
4. Their usual treatment which was at the discretion of their doctor and could include the use of antibiotic medication.
The study had each participant fill out a questionnaire called the Rhinosinusitis Disability Index, at three months and again at six months, to gauge symptom relief from the four treatment methods assigned.
Results showed participants who used a neti pot or nasal irrigation, had the best improvements out of the four methods. Steam inhalation helped with some relief of headaches but did not bring relief for nasal congestion.
This was not a surprise to the researchers as nasal irrigation has long been regarded as the best way and a first line of defense in treating sinusitis.
There are several different types of products used for nasal irrigation – bulb syringe, squeeze bottles or a neti pot. The devices usually involve mixing a saline solution with water and then pouring or spraying the mixture into the nostril. By doing this it helps the body get rid of irritating and infectious agents that get into the nose.
Our noses are equipped with tiny, hair-like structures called cilia which trap dirt, bacteria, viruses and anything else that shouldn’t be there. These trapped particles get pushed down to the back of the throat where they are swallowed and destroyed by stomach acid.
For people with chronic sinusitis the consistency of their mucus changes making it harder to move the particles to the back of the throat. Nasal irrigation helps thin out mucus improving the coordination of the cilia to remove bacteria and other irritants from the sinus passages.
Steam inhalation is not as effective as it can cause swelling of membranes which can be harmful.
Many physicians recommend to their patients who have chronic sinusitis to use some form of a nasal irrigation system such as a neti pot on a regular if not daily basis. This helps reduce the incidence of sinusitis and prevents having to get repeated courses of antibiotics which can lead to the development of antibiotic resistance.
The use of rinsing nasal passages with a neti pot has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration but they need to be used safely to avoid any risk of infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends to not use tap water but to either use filtered, boiled or distilled water when mixing the saline solution. Always rinse irrigation devices after each use with safe water and air dry them completely.