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The salty solution for nasal congestion


grandmother comforting sick child

I can remember as far back as being a young child when my mother taught me how to mix salt and lukewarm water to create a solution to help our nasal congestion and coughing.  I would grab a tea cup, measure out ¼ tsp of salt, and mix in about 8 oz of lukewarm tap water.  Then I’d stand over the bathroom sink, take a spoonful, hold it up to one nostril, and sniff.  Then the other nostril, sniff, and repeat.  It wasn’t always pretty.  But it always ended in coughing up that thick mucus that makes us feel miserable, and finally being able to blow out what seemed like a ton of mucus from my nose.  LOL. But I could breathe again!  Sometimes, I would sniff too hard, even as an adult this can happen, and it would feel like a million ants running around in my head.  Remember diving into the swimming pool and having that happen!  Even so, the relief that would come afterwards made it all worth it. 


So why is this not a basic practice amongst all households today? Is it because it is inexpensive or just too simple?  We can only speculate. 


Personally, I’ll share 3 experiences with you that I know first hand including the following:  my sisters, my own, and my husband.  

I have a sister who to this day refuses to do a saltwater treatment to get rid of her mucus.  And the short story is that she is always getting “sinus infections.”  I put that in quotes because I’ve heard her say this within just days of having symptoms.  If anything, it is still viral at this point, and her antibiotics are not truly helping.  So why would she get better?  My opinion is that she likely didn’t need it, and would have improved anyway.  That said, there are days that pass, and she gets the sinus pressure, and continued congestion that she can’t clear on her own, and subsequently treats with antibiotics.  Taking antibiotics too soon or too often can create its own set of problems which can be a blog for a different day.  After all, you’ve likely heard of the growing concern of antibiotic resistance, not to mention the disruption to our bowels.  


In comparison, I’ve never needed to take antibiotics for sinus infections.  Now, let me find some wood to knock on, lol, just kidding.  It has been over 52 years, and to this day, I still do my saline nasal washes as needed for mucus congestion.  Even on vacation, I’ll search for a salt packet, a paper cup, and water to make my concoction, and get some relief.  It's not always comfortable, especially if I have to use a public restroom, but the reverse of listening to someone constantly sniff, or nearly gag on their own secretions while trying to speak is so much worse.


Soon into our marriage, going on 19 years now, my husband became a believer too!  He had been coughing one evening, and nothing was helping.  I asked if he had any nasal discharge.  He didn’t think so.  I asked him if he would try the saline solution to see if it would help.  He disappeared for a few minutes, then I heard him in our guest bathroom taking care of business.  Soon after, he reappeared, and was quiet as a mouse.  He was shocked, and I was pleased.  He apparently was having some unknown post nasal drip which once the saline solution was used, it had cleared, and therefore, did not cause the cough to continue for hours.  Yes, it's true, you will likely need to repeat the process more than once.  But for the relief it brings, it is so worth it.  It generally takes less than 5 min to complete at the most.  Now, I’ll add here, if you let your nasal congestion build, then you may have to do a few ‘back to back’ treatments until the discharge is clear.  You’ll know.  Just listen to how you feel, and what you are able to clear.  One reason we wake up with yellow-green nasal discharge in the morning is that we’ve not cleared it through the night.  It doesn’t mean you’ve got an ‘immediate’ infection that won’t clear unless you have antibiotics.  Start your saline nasal treatment, and repeat 2-3 times, blow your nose, and wait a few minutes.  If you can continue to blow your nose and get mucus out, great.  If it still feels blocked or like there is more, then repeat the process with sniffing, or spraying the saline solution to each nostril.  If some of it goes down the back of your throat, don’t worry!  That’s normal!  And will actually help you clear the mucus in the back of your throat that is making you cough as well. 


Now professionally, in my over 30 years of practicing nursing, I’ve heard comments from ENT doctors like, “if I taught my patients to do saline nasal washes, then I wouldn't have any patients!!”  yah, not a typo my friends.  I’ve also heard patients and parents say things like, “I can’t do that, or he won’t let me use the saline on him (parent to child).”  I always try to encourage them to just try it once, what will it hurt?  After all, that’s what allowed my husband to understand the benefits, and he continues to do it to this day on his own.  Yep, no encouragement from his nurse wife!  


nasal congestion product Nose Frida

Here are some additional tips.

  1. For infants and young children, the nosefrida is so much easier on the child as they are barely bothered by it.  It is so much cleaner too than the old blue suction bulbs that easily accumulate mold and other disgusting particles over time.  Don’t believe me, cut it in half and check it out!  Ewwww!   

  2. These days, it is important to use the following recipe which you’ll note suggests distilled, sterile, filtered, or previously boiled water (brought down to a lukewarm temperature of course).


Saline Solution Recipe:

“mix one or two cups of distilled or boiled water with ½ to ¼ teaspoon of non-iodized salt. Avoid iodized salt, including table salt. If you’re using boiled water, boil for five minutes (and allow it to return to lukewarm temperature before use).”  https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/24286-nasal-irrigation


Thank you so much for your time!  As my husband is always adding, “if you learned something new today, you won’t die today!”  lol.  That said, we can each learn something new every day if we look for it! 


Stay tuned to part 2, it's not as salty, but just as important!  



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