For quite a while now I have been suffering from chronic nasal congestion, i.e. my nose seemed to be chronically blocked. Not severely blocked, but blocked enough so that my sense of smell had been dulled, which was extremely annoying. No amount of nose blowing seemed to shift whatever was clogging my nasal system, since my nose wasn’t runny. In fact, it seemed as if the congestion was at the back of my nasal passages, in an area otherwise known as the nasopharynx. The nasopharynx is illustrated in the diagram of the nasal passages below.
Since the nasopharynx is at the back of the nasal cavity, it is difficult to shift the blockage. Isn’t it interesting to see how large the nasal passages are? You wouldn’t expect it, since you lose the sensation of where the air is going when you inhale. To the left of the diagram you can see where the front teeth are (in white) and the nostrils mark the entrance to the ‘nasal vestibule’.
I couldn’t understand why my nose was constantly blocked. It seemed unaffected by seasonality, implying that it wasn’t hay fever. It couldn’t be an allergy to dairy or dairy products, since I gave those up approximately 3 years ago. It couldn’t be a chronic bacterial/viral infection because the mucus wasn’t thick or runny. For a while I thought it might be a wheat allergy. Although it isn’t impossible to be vegan and not eat wheat, it is not an easy task (I also think it wouldn’t be easy for a non-vegan, since wheat is ubiquitous). However, eliminating wheat didn’t seem to be particularly effective at ‘de-congesting’ my nasal system.
So I went to my local GP. I wasn’t too optimistic, since, in my experience, GPs tend to be a little dismissive. I explained to my GP that I wasn’t interested in taking any medication. I asked my GP if she could arrange for me to meet an ear, nose and throat specialist. She asked me if I had heard of nasal irrigation and said that ENT specialists recommended it to their patients. I said I’d try it and see how I got on.
Nasal irrigation is a practice that involves washing out the nasal passages with a saline solution to flush out excess mucus and environmental irritants (such as pollen, dust, smog etc). It can be performed using a nasal spray or a neti pot. I think nasal sprays are uncomfortable to use, so I bought a neti pot. A neti pot is made of ceramic and looks ‘like a cross between a small teapot and Aladdin’s magic lamp’. The practice of using a neti pot to alleviate congestion is centuries old, originating from yoga medical tradition. Using a neti pot does look a little undignified, but I found that it really helped alleviate my nasal congestion. I also found the experience comfortable (once you get used to it).
How to Use a Neti Pot
- Wash the neti pot with soap & water
- Fill the neti pot with lukewarm water (i.e. body temperature). I boil the water first and wait for it to cool down
- Add 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp baking soda to the water and mix with a spoon until dissolved
- Leaning over a sink or bathtub, tilt your head to the side
- Put the spout of the neti pot in your nostril
- Breathe gently through your mouth
- Tilt the neti pot so that the saline solution will flow through your nasal cavity and out through the other nostril. It’s a strange sensation but it shouldn’t feel uncomfortable if done correctly. The fluid may run into your throat, in which case you can just spit it out
- Blow your nose. You will definitely need to do this, as the neti pot will have shifted some of your mucus.
- Repeat on the other side
In summary, I’m happy I gave it a go because I feel much better now!