Nasal Irrigation: A Step-by-Step Guide

Updated in February 2022

A great way to unplug your nose is by performing a nasal irrigation. This can be done using normal saline (salt water) and   a syringe without a needle.

With the force of gravity, water will enter into one nostril and fall out of the other, without causing pain or discomfort. This method removes nasal discharge and any debris. 

Nasal irrigation is an excellent way to clear out upper airway secretions, but it is also an effective way to keep the inner nose clean, which is important for those who have an respiratory allergy, runny nose or sinusitis. 

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Step-by-step guide 

Whether irrigating adults or children, this procedure should be completed over a sink. You can follow these steps: 

  • Fill a syringe with about 5 to 10 mL of normal saline 
  • During the procedure, make sure to keep your mouth open and to breathe through your mouth 
  • Lean your body forward with your head tilted slightly to the side 
  • Position the syringe in your nostril and press so that the saline pours out of the opposite nostril. You can adjust your head accordingly until the saline enters one side and exits the other. 

You are recommended to repeat this cleanse 3 to 4 times in each nostril, depending on how necessary it is. In addition, you can fill the syringe with higher quantities of saline. You should end the irrigation by blowing your nose thoroughly, to remove the maximum amount of secretions possible. If you have difficulty completing this while standing, you can also try irrigating while lying down, as show in the image below.

There are alternative equipments available to complete nasal irrigations. Some pharmacies also sell pot-like devices, or specific squeeze-bottles made for irrigating. These can also be purchased online. 

Irrigating a baby  

To complete a nasal irrigation correctly on a baby, you should place the baby in your lap, facing a mirror. Ensure you hold their head so that he doesn't turn around and injure themselves. To initiate the cleansing, draw about 3 mL of saline into the syringe and insert into the baby’s nostril. You should press the syringe quickly, so that the saline squirts as a jet into one nostril and exits naturally through the other. 

When the child is already used to nasal irrigation, there is no need to hold him or her down. Just place the syringe into the nostril and press the saline in. 

Other ways to unplug a stuffy nose 

Other ways to unplug your nose include: 

  • Using a humidifier in each room in your home
  • Drink 1.5 to 2 L (up to half a gallon= of water every day, as water helps to dissolve the mucus 
  • Place a pillow under your mattress to keep your head elevated, which will facilitate breathing when you are sleeping 
  • Use a warm compress on your face to relieve discomfort and open the sinuses

Decongestant medication should only be used under medical supervision.