The Key To Health – Okay, maybe two Keys…


HOW I have managed to get this far in life before learning about the magic of a nasal saline spray????

For eons, it seems, “viral upper respiratory illness” (a/k/a “viral URI” or best known as “the common cold”) has eluded the medical community for solutions. There is no scientific cure for it. You just get through it.

When patients approach doctors seeking to reverse the ailments of the common cold, we are repeatedly beset with the conundrum of “to antibiose or not to antibiose; that is the question.” Yes, it is a dilemma as to whether to prescribe an antibiotic; when a patient walks in after the 5th Z-pack in 4 weeks, insisting that “it has always worked” we medical providers truly shudder inside. This is because we know in our hearts the very reason the blessed Z-pack seems so essential to that individual is that it is no longer working. That is, whatever microorganism colonizes the afflicted upper respiratory tract has developed resistance to azithromycin and hangs around, on and on, while the only benefit left to the medication is its placebo effect.

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Stubbornly determined to avoid falling victim to my own vice as a physician (the difficulty of arguing down patients who are dead set on taking antibiotics for viral illnesses is often too overwhelming so after a while many of us just stop protesting and prescribe as demanded), I scoured the pharmacy aisles while my sinuses throbbed. I had already spent two days basically flat on my back with my head full of thick yellow gunk – no matter how much I blew, it just kept coming back. No fever, no sore throat, no focality. Just generalized congestion everywhere from the nose up, and drips would occasionally make me cough. If there is such a thing as a “glaringly viral” upper respiratory infection, this was it.

I have rendered “neti pot” instructions to countless patients, always adding the caveat that I couldn’t pour anything into my own nose so I would understand why they might not do the same. But this weekend, my eyes fell upon the “saline nasal spray” – new line – “ultra-gentle mist.”

It’s not that I’d never heard of saline nasal spray; for some reason on this particular day it made so much sense to me. My 7-year-old has been using Flonase with no issue for his own post-nasal drip for months. Shouldn’t I be able to tolerate an “ultra-gentle mist”??

I grabbed a bottle and bounded home. Indeed, the spray was effortless: cool, slightly tingly… honestly when meeting up with a wall of almost solid mucous towards the rear of my nasal passages, it felt like pretty much nothing. All my agonized memories of burning turbinates from jumping into pools without pinching the nostrils shut were for naught. What had taken me so long to try this???

As instructed by the bottle, I left the saline in my nose for a few seconds, then blew into a trusty Puffs Plus. It was ever so slightly easier to expel mucous than it had been before trying the saline. I hedged for half a moment, worrying if I could overdose by doing this too many times in a row… with… saline? If I could have snorted (which my aging body automatically seems to do now when amused), I would have. But there was more clearing to be done first.

So about five rounds of spraying and blowing followed. I wised up for the last couple of rounds and laid on my back to let the saline dilute as much snot as it could reach in the space of a minute or so before blowing.

I repeated this twice yesterday, 5 to 8 rounds in a row. Then did it again this morning. Impressive improvement. Tonight, did it again, this time dangling my head upside-down off the side of my bed to let the saline drip into the upper sinuses. Effortless. Four or five rounds of spraying and blowing… and my sinuses felt CLEAR.

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Well, actually it wasn’t effortless. It took me getting over myself and just going ahead and spraying something into my nose. Something utterly harmless: saline. Out of a bottle that cost $6 at the pharmacy. The only side effect: yeah… a teeny bit of burning in the back of my nose, between my eyes, that apparently comes with wetting the bare membranes of my nasal passages. It has taken several dozen rinses to reach those bare membranes under the layers and layers of glop.

I’m both embarrassed and ashamed that this is a new discovery for me. A forty-year-old physician and mom. A very simple solution to an extremely common problem. Okay, it was really a twofold solution:

  • Common Sense
  • Diligent Practice

You see, one spray and blow did not cure my cold. Honestly, my cold is still not “cured” right now. But, having personally suffered extensive viral respiratory illnesses throughout my adult life (most commonly associated with poor sleep habits and amplified stress responses), many of which would last weeks upon weeks at a time, this was probably the first time I gave it my all to get it over with quickly.

It wasn’t just the saline, to be honest.

  • I slept. I slept and slept as long as my body insisted that I sleep.
  • My “comfort food” was an item that many people think of as a healthy daily staple: cereal. [I looooooove cereal, but only let myself eat it maybe once a week, if that.] Okay, and a few slices of pizza. I tried to maintain my baseline good stuff: kale-blueberry smoothie. Plain eggs. Leftovers full of veggies.
  • I drank water like crazy, probably about 25-30% more than my typical baseline water intake [which is truly 3/4oz for every pound of my body weight…]. Yes, I have been drinking more than 100oz (closer to 120oz) of water a day this weekend.
  • Once I had a little energy, I got up and did stuff. I didn’t hurry. And when I got tired I laid back down and slept again.
  • And yes: I rinsed the heck out of my sinuses with saline

The key to health is not in a secret pill. Frankly in my opinion, it’s not in ANY pill. And it’s not a secret at all. We all know it, we just avoid it because it isn’t easy.  Getting to where the above list was even remotely possible in my life has been anything but easy.  This is the current state of a constant ebb and flow of habits that are sometimes right and sometimes wrong… they’ve just gone right three times after having gone wrong twice.  And where it goes wrong three times, it would taking doing it right four times.  You get the idea.

It’s a two-sided key. First, use common sense. Then, diligently practice what you know to make sense.

It’s hella boring.  It is NOT instantaneous, rather takes repetition and faith.  And it works.

Stay tuned.  More to come.