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Do Saltwater Rinses Really Help Clean Out Your Disgusting Nostrils?

As with most stuff involving saltwater, it’s important not to go overboard

Who doesn’t love it when you’re at the beach and a big wave sends a gallon of saltwater up your nose? Don’t you just want to replicate that experience at home? Maybe even pay money to do so? Well, you can! And actually, maybe you should. Despite it looking suspiciously like yet another quack remedy, running saltwater, or saline, through your nostrils really can provide relief for a cold or the unlucky among us with allergies. But can a nasal spray help with the novel coronavirus? Think again.

There’s no evidence that nasal rinses can do anything to prevent viral sickness, including COVID-19. Further, nasal rinses only affect the nose, while coronavirus impacts the lungs specifically. However, nasal rinses are considered safe in moderation and can help ease symptoms among people experiencing congestion in their nose. It’s by no means a cure, but it can make having a stuffy, runny nose a bit more bearable. 

It’s also important to note that nasal rinses are completely different from prescription nasal sprays designed specifically to treat allergies, or the anti-inflammatory sprays currently being studied as a treatment for coronavirus. Nasal rinses contain only purified water and salt, but this combo works well in gently loosening mucus and whatever else is sitting in your nostrils.

It works by essentially giving your nasal passages a little shower — like, you’re literally just rinsing them out. After all, they’re coated with tiny little hair-like things called cilia, which help trap dirt, bacteria, allergy-causing spores and foreign particles, sending them down your throat to your stomach to be destroyed by acid. But when you’re sick or have allergies, the mucus in your nose thickens, and when your mucus is too thick, it’s more challenging for these particles to be removed. Rinsing out your nostrils not only provides an alternate means of particle removal, it also helps thin the existing mucus. 

Why salt water, though? It’s because salt has powerful antibacterial qualities –– so much so that raw meat packed in salt can be safe to eat for months. It’s also important that the water itself is as clean as possible. Doctors recommend using about eight ounces of either distilled or boiled (and then cooled, duh) water. According to the Food and Drug Administration, tap water can contain bacteria of its own, and since the goal of nasal irrigation is to get rid of bacteria, it’s probably wise not to risk introducing more of it. Not to mention, some bacterial infections can only be transmitted through the nose, like Naegleria fowleri, a brain-eating amoeba. So, you know, avoid that. 

To do the actual rinsing part, you’ve got some choices. You can buy bottles designed specifically for this (as well as pre-made saline solution) at the pharmacy, or you can use one of those freaky bulbs people use to suck the snot out of babies’ noses. Once you’ve got that settled, the only thing left to do is to gently run that ish through one side of your nose, let it run out the other, repeat on the opposite side and then blow it all out. (You’ll probably want to be leaning over a sink. Or your partner’s mouth. Whatever suits you.)

While rinsing your sinuses is considered pretty safe, even for kids, you probably shouldn’t do it more than once a day while you’re experiencing symptoms, or if you have chronic allergies. If you’re not having any sinus problems, there’s really no reason to do it — in fact, you could end up increasing your risk for sinus infection if you overdo it by hindering your nose’s protective features. Plus, what are you, some kind of masochist?