Irrigation of the Nose Helps Prevent Colds

SAN FRANCISCO (Sept 21, 1998) - It was announced today, at the 50th Scientific Assembly of the American Academy of Family Physicians, that irrigation of the nose was found to be "effective" at preventing colds.

The study was performed by Drs. Richard Ravizza and John Fornadley of Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pennsylvania. They divided 294 college students into three groups: one group performed daily nasal irrigation with saline, one took a daily placebo pill, and the third group was left untreated. The doctors found that the group who irrigated with saline experienced a significant reduction in colds compared with the placebo or untreated groups.

While this study of cold prevention is new, Ravizza pointed out that nasal irrigation has been a part of yoga health-oriented ``cleaning rituals'' for centuries. Ravizza said that it has not been determined precisely how nasal irrigation protects against viral infection. ``At a physical level, just cleaning it out, irrigating it, is probably helpful,'' he was quoted as saying by Reuters Health. ``At a molecular level, at a cellular level, I have no idea.''

When Ravizza was asked about whether few people might enjoy water up their nose, he replied that after an initial week-long adjustment period, ``50% of the subjects who formed the nasal irrigation group characterized (the procedure) as pleasant. Many said it was soothing, others said it was comforting.'' A remaining 21% said they had ``neutral'' feelings regarding the procedure, while 29% did not find it comfortable. Ravizza said that most people who perform nasal irrigation required, "good instruction,''. He suggested that interested persons should contact a local yoga center or similar organization, such as the Himalayan Institute.

Drs. Ravizza and Sunderland have performed a great service in demonstrating that colds can be reduced or avoided by irrigation. However, ancient yogis aren't the only people who practiced this "re-discovered" technique. My wife reminds me her father did this all his life and never had a cold. In addition, my patients who use pulsatile irrigation regularly have been telling me for years that they don't get colds anymore. I should have listened to them!

The benefits of pulsatile irrigation include:

  1. Washing with saline removes certain virus products, making less work for the body's natural immune and disease-fighting systems.
  2. With a cold, the mucus of the nose thickens. This impairs the nasal cilia movement that is needed for health. With irrigation, the thick mucus is removed and is replaced by thin saline. This allows the cilia to move again to defend the body.
  3. Pulsation moves the cilia back and forth, which helps restore normal movement of the cilia.
  4. Warm saline encourages blood flow to the sinus and nasal passage linings.
  5. Saline is good for the nose; it keeps the nasal and sinus tissues moist and helps the nose to heal.
  6. Anyone can irrigate their own sinuses. With an appropriate pulsatile irrigation system, we even have 5 year old kids doing it all by themselves!

Use very low pressure. This makes irrigating pleasant and easy, avoiding any uncomfortable sensation of pressure in the head. I find that my patients readily treat themselves, and are less likely to skip treatments than with other methods.

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Last Update 1999 13 October
Murray Grossan M.D.