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Study finds nasal rinsing effective in clearing Covid viral load more quickly

Recent research has shown that nasal rinsing can be an effective way to reduce viral load of Covid (and other viruses too!) in the nose and upper airway. Here, our founder, Chrissi, shares her experience of nasal rinsing and offers tips to maximise your efforts.

This study is interesting because it is the first time this technique has been investigated as a way of reducing the severity of Covid 19. Crucially, the findings of this study suggest that rinsing makes you less likely to pass the illness on to others in close contact with you - because you are washing the virus down the plug hole and getting it out of the environment.

Nasal rinsing (also called 'nasal douching') using a squeezy bottle which contains a saline solution is a mainstay of self care for many problems with the nose. Whether you have allergies or chronic rhinosinusitis, squeezy bottles offer an efficient and safe way of clearing allergens, pollutants, and excess mucus from the upper airway.

Neti pots are another option, but I find them more difficult to keep clean and because you can't squeeze them, you can't regulate the pressure of the "squirt" - you only get gravity. NeilMed rinse bottles - which you can find online and in many UK pharmacists - are the ones I prefer, though I've tried all kinds. Many US drugstores, such as CVS, make their own versions too.

Here are my key tips for nasal rinsing, whether you have just caught Covid or have another reason for using nasal rinsing: 

  1. Never rinse with plain water only. You need the salinity and buffer (bicarbonate of soda/baking soda) to safeguard your delicate tissues in the nose.
  2. Use boiled, cooled water. Don't use from the tap. In some parts of the world, the water system has organisms that can be harmful.  Using water that was left in the kettle after boiling is a good option. I prefer body temperature, although I know others who use it cold. So if I've poured out cold water to measure, I'll put the bottle in the microwave for 10 or 15 seconds to warm it up. 
  3.  Keep your bottle clean, rinsed, and drying upside down. I've had Covid and I was extra vigilant, sterilising before each use. To do this, I put a half inch of water in the bottle, dropped the nozzle in (leaving loose) and put into the microwave on high for about 30 seconds. Your microwave may well be different--just watch until you see the water start to boil, then you are done. The bottle will be really hot and soft. I use a hot glove at this point. I tip out the water and then add the water I'm going to use to mix the solution. The bottle cools quickly and goes back to feeling "normal", rather than super soft. Don't over cook it in the micro--the bottle will melt. 
  4. Use the right kind of buffer solution. You can buy NeilMed sachets containing salt and bicarb, or you can mix your own and keep it in the bathroom.

The study was carried out by researchers from the School of Public Health at Xiamen University in China. They used Syrian hamsters whose olfactory systems are very close to those of humans.

The NHS has more information about making your own buffer solution here.

May 22, 2023