Saline nasal sprays, drops & rinses

Also called 'salt water' nasal wash

Saline nasal preparations are salt-water solutions used to help unblock a congested nose.

What is saline and why is it used?

Saline refers to the use of a 'salt water' solution. Plain water can irritate your nose. The saline allows the water to pass through delicate nasal membranes with little or no burning or irritation.

What are saline sprays, drops & rinses used for? 

Saline nasal sprays and drops are used to treat a blocked nose (nasal congestion) in people with colds. It can help to thin the mucous and reduce the amount of secretion from the nose. It can be used safely in adults, children and babies.¹ In babies, only use the saline drops just before feeds and only if the nose is blocked. If saline is used too often, the skin around the nose may become a little sore.²  

In babies, only use the saline drops just before feeds and only if the nose is blocked. If saline is used too often, the skin around the nose may become a little sore.²  

Saline rinses can remove dust, pollen and other debris, as well as help to loosen thick mucus. It can help relieve nasal symptoms of sinus infections and allergies

What saline nasal products can I buy?

Saline nasal sprays, drops and rinses are available as commercial products, that can be bought from your local pharmacy, such as:

  • nasal drops
    • Dimetapp Saline®
    • Narium®
    • Otrivin Saline Baby®
  • nasal spray
    • Narium®
    • Dimetapp Saline®
    • Otrisal®
    • FESS®
  • nasal rinse
    • Neilmed® Sinus Rinse

Can I make saline solutions at home?

You can make your own saline solution at home using cooled, boiled water and the right proportion of salt. See below for instructions to make a nasal decongestant and a sinus rinse, and to find out why it's essential to use water that has been boiled and cooled

Nasal decongestant 

A home-made saline solution can be used as a nasal decongestant, particularly in younger children and infants. Mix 1/4 teaspoon salt with 2 cups of cooled, boiled water and administer using a small spray bottle, a nasal dropper or a syringe.³ 

When using a home-made solution, it is important to ensure that the device fits the age of the person using it. Using an incorrect device can injure the nasal passages. Nasal droppers and nasal spray bottles can be purchased from your local pharmacy. Always check with your doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you are unsure about what device to use. 

Sinus rinse

A home-made saline solution can be used as a sinus rinse in adults. Mix 1 teaspoon salt + 1 teaspoon baking soda in 500 mL cooled boiled water.(4) Stir until dissolved. To rinse your nose:

  • wash and dry your hands
  • stand over a sink, cup the palm of one hand and pour a small amount of the solution into it
  • sniff the water into one nostril at a time.

Repeat these steps until your nose feels more comfortable (you may not need to use all of the solution). You should make a fresh solution each day. Don't re-use a solution made the day before. Special devices, such as a sinus rinse bottle or neti pot, can be used instead of your hand. These are available from pharmacies. If you choose to use one of these, make sure you follow the manufacturer's instructions about using and cleaning it.

Why does water need to be boiled first?

When making up the saline nasal solution is important to ensure that the water used has been previously boiled and cooled. Tap water is not safe for use because it's not adequately filtered or treated. Some tap water contains a low level of bugs (bacteria) that may be safe to swallow (because the stomach acids kill them), but in your nose, these bugs stay alive and can cause infection.(5)      

Boil the water for 3 to 5 minutes, then cool until it is lukewarm. Previously boiled water can be stored in a clean container for use within 24 hours.  

Possible side effects

Using saline drops, sprays and rinses is quite safe. It can sometimes cause mild discomfort and minor nose bleeds.¹ Contact your health care provider if you experience ongoing discomfort, nose bleeds or ear pain.  

Learn more

The following links provide further information on saline nasal products. Be aware that websites from other countries may contain information that differs from New Zealand recommendations.

Saline nasal douches ENT Group, Auckland (NZ)
Nasal irrigation – is it safe? Public Health, WA (Australia)
Saline irrigation for sinus problems American Family Physician (US) 
Saline nasal irrigation Univ of Wisconsin (US)

References

  1. Cold season in primary care BPAC, 2013 April
  2. Blocked nose in babies (snuffles) Patient.co.uk
  3. Do cough and cold medicines work in children? BPAC, 2010 July
  4. Sinusitis - treatment NHS choices
  5. Is rinsing your sinuses with neti pots safe? FDA, 2012 August