Harvard Women's Health Watch

Ask the doctor: Do nasal saline washes prevent sinusitis flare-ups?

Q. I have chronic sinusitis that flares up into an infection a couple of times each year. Do nasal saline washes really help prevent flares?

A. There is no "cure" for chronic sinusitis, a long-term inflammatory condition that may cause nasal congestion, mucus, facial pain, or a diminished sense of smell. Many people with the condition wind up with flares (acute sinusitis) that require antibiotics and steroid sprays or pills.

These medicines treat flares, but most people with this chronic condition, like you, are aiming to prevent them altogether. For that, studies have shown that nasal saline washes are very effective. Saline washes remove mucus, irritants, and allergens from your nose and moisturize your nasal passages. Many over-the-counter pots, squeeze bottles, and syringes are available. To use these products, gently squirt the saline solution into each side of your nose while you're bending over the sink or standing in the shower. The solution should flow into one nostril and out the other. You may rinse your sinuses as needed—daily, or more than once a day, depending on your symptoms.

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