By now we’ve all heard about a number of common sense precautions to help keep us from getting infected with flus and colds. Along with drinking lots of fluids (especially water), getting good rest and sleep, avoiding sugar and eating a good diet high in fresh vegetables and fruits we know that frequent hand washing will clean off any viruses we may touch before we can transport them to our mouth, eyes or nose. Well, here’s an interesting and effective variation on the hand-washing theme.

For years I’ve recommended using a nasal rinse or nasal “douche” for sinus infections. I’ve helped many patients clear out even severe infections with this approach. For established infections I recommend 1 teaspoon each of sea salt (not regular table salt which contains sugar and other additives) and apple cider vinegar in 8-10 oz of warm water. This makes a good gargle and nasal rinse.

Recently I’ve run across some interesting studies using the nasal douche to prevent or speed healing from the flu. One found that it takes up to 48 hours for the flu virus to establish itself in the mucus membranes of the sinuses and throat. If you can wash these areas out during that 48 hours it can keep the virus from getting established and growing into a full-fledged flu. Another study was done with school children, some who had the flu and some who didn’t…..yet. As compared to the control group, the kids who used a nasal douche 2-3 times/day got over the flu faster and fewer kids got sick to start with.

In both these studies the nasal douche solution was simple salt water. It seemed the benefit was two-fold. The solution washed viruses out of the body and also cleared the “filter” mechanism of the cilliary escalator in the nose and throat. Kind of like changing the filter on your furnace when it gets clogged up.

I’m suggesting using the salt water (one tsp/10 oz coffee mug) for prevention and to speed up recovery. The salt is important. You want to keep the solution about the same salinity as your cells or slightly higher. Otherwise your nasal cells will suck up the water, swell and cause painful nasal congestion…not the effect we’re trying for! Some people need to use less than 1 tsp of salt. You should be able to definately taste the salt but the salt taste should not be overwhelming. Use the salt water as a gargle daily. To rinse the nose, you can pour a little salt water into your cupped palm, block off one nostril and suck up a little water with the other. Tilt your head back and let the water run back into your throat and spit it out. Do this 3 times on each side, 1-3 times/day, once a day for prevention, up to 3 times/day if you’re actually sick. To make things easier and get more volume through your nose, you can use a “Netti Pot” to pour salt water through your nose. They’re available in most health food stores and we have them for sale at the office.

So, to help prevent flu and colds, wash your hands frequently and keep your nose clean!

Dr. Hogg