Harvard Women's Health Watch

Irrigation better than steam in relieving nasal symptoms

Research we're watching

Chronic sinus symptoms—clogged nasal passages, a dripping nose, or a dull headache—rarely signal a serious medical condition, so there haven't been many studies testing the effectiveness of therapies for them. A team of researchers from the University of Southampton School of Medicine in the United Kingdom decided to see whether either of two popular remedies—nasal irrigation and steam—work.

They recruited 871 adults who had a history of chronic or recurrent sinusitis and reported a "moderate to severe" impact of sinus symptoms on their quality of life. They randomly assigned the participants to four groups—one did what they normally would; the second used a neti pot to pour a saltwater solution through their sinuses once a day; the third inhaled steam from a bowl of hot water daily, and the fourth used both steam and irrigation daily. All completed a questionnaire commonly used to evaluate the severity of symptoms at the beginning, and 671 returned questionnaires three months and six months into the study. When the researchers analyzed the questionnaires, they found that for participants who used the neti pot, symptoms improved modestly, whether or not they also inhaled steam. The study was published online July 18, 2016, by the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

If you suffer from chronic sinus problems, you may want to give the neti pot a try. You can find the instructional video made for study participants online. Go to www.youtube.com and type SNIFS in the search field. Use distilled—not tap—water, though.