by Elizabeth Dover
Like so many people with MCS, I am constantly looking for new and better ways to alleviate the chronic respiratory symptoms triggered by my reactions to foods and chemical fumes. One of the most effective (not to mention, the cheapest) methods I have found for clearing out that sticky, persistent mucus that clogs my sinuses and leads to headaches, infections, and severe and frequent asthma attacks is to regularly wash my nasal passages with salt water.
The practice of saline nasal wash or lavage (called Neti in the yoga tradition) is a time honored folk remedy for a variety of respiratory complaints, as well is a simple and effective tool for maintaining nasal health. The technique is simple, and if practiced correctly, provides gentle and immediate relief of nasal congestion.
The keys to comfortable nasal lavage are concentration and temperature. The solution should have the same salt concentration as your tears (0.9%) and be warmed to normal body temperature or a bit warmer. If the salt concentration is too low or too high, the experience can be very unpleasant (like getting water up your nose when you are swimming). Water that is too cool will cause the nasal membranes to swell, defeating the purpose of the wash. Water that is too hot will burn the sensitive nasal mucosa.
The solution should be prepared with distilled or filtered water and a pure, non-iodized salt. I have experimented with various salt products and found that canning and pickling salt is pure (99.95% NaCl), cheap (Diamond Crystal brand cost me $1.20 for 3 lbs.), and readily available (you can buy it at any supermarket that carries canning supplies). Kosher salt is an acceptable alternative.
The amount of salt you need to add will depend upon both the volume of water you use and the texture of the salt you select (the coarser the grind, the more you need). I generally prepare 2 cups at a time and store it in a thermos next to the bathroom sink. I have achieved good, consistent results with the following recipe:
Pour about 1/2 cup of this solution into a Neti pot or squeeze bottle. (A Neti pot is a small ceramic vessel, shaped like an Aladdin's lamp, that is specifically designed for nasal lavage. Neti pots are available in some health food stores and yoga supply shops, or they can be ordered through the Real Goods Catalogue or from the Himalayan Institute.) Bending over a sink, hold the spout to one nostril, tilt your head and pour the solution through so it flows out the other nostril. After rinsing, gently blow the loosened mucus out and repeat as needed. If you prefer, the same solution can be used in a spray bottle.
In addition to the saline rinse, there are various substances you can add to the pot to specifically treat infection. My favorite additive is grapefruit seed extract (1 drop per pot, well mixed--careful with this, it is really potent, but boy, does it liquefy the mucus!). You can find other recommendations for additives on page 48 of Herbs to Help You Breathe Freely.
As you can tell, I am very enthusiastic about this process. I had great difficulty getting past my initial revulsion and fear of choking, but when I finally worked up the courage to try it, I found it to be both comfortable and soothing. It is so simple, gentle, and effective I can't imagine what I ever did without it. I hope you will give it a try, and that you find it as valuable as I have. If you prefer a pure saline spray, the proportions of salt to water suggested above should work just fine in a spray bottle.
The Himalayan Publishers
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Honesdale, PA 18431
Web Address: http://www.himalayaninstitute.org/
555 Leslie Street
Ukiah, CA 95482-5576
Orders: 1-800-762-7325; Foreign Orders: 707/468-9214
Web Address: http://www.realgoods.com
Puotinen, C. J., Herbs to Help You Breathe Freely, 1996, Keats Publishing, Inc., New Haven CT; ISBN 0-87983-741-1.
Rama, Swami, Rudolph Ballentine, M.D., and Alan Hymes, M.D., Science of Breath, 1979, The Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy, Honesdale, PA; ISBN 0-89389-057-X.
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