alan little’s weblog

my new toy

30th May 2004 permanent link

In this week’s Sunday light relief, Alan describes his plan to make himself happier by putting white powder up his nose.

My new toy is a Grossan Hydro Pulse Nasal Irrigator, which I hope is going to cure me of hayfever.

I’ve suffered from hayfever, sometimes quite badly, since I was a small child. (I sincerely hope my son doesn’t, but my dad does so I suppose the odds aren’t good). Some years it makes summer a living hell, some years it’s quite mild. It’s definitely stress-related to some degree: the worst summers ever were examination years when I was a student. On the other hand, last year I had a new source of stress, and hayfever-wise it was a very mild year. It also doesn’t bother me as long as I’m actually doing things that require concentration – climbing, yoga – but hits again as soon as I stop.

I’ve tried all sorts of things for it over the years. I recall mega overdoses of antihistamines combined with beer at student parties being interesting. Attempts at desensitisation, by injections or by eating various pollen concoctions, never seemed to be particularly effective. The most effective thing so far was a corticosteroid asthma inhaler that my doctor prescribed for me one year; but shooting ’roids up my nose every summer for the rest of my life seemed somehow unappealing, so I kept looking.

When I started studying yoga I heard about an ancient yoga technique called neti kriya that cleans out the nasal passages by various means, most of which involve irrigating with salt water. There’s a substantial amount of evidence that it can help a lot with sinusitis and other nasal problems. I’ve been trying it for my hayfever for a couple of years, and have found that it helps quite considerably but is nowhere near being a complete cure.

The normal neti method is to use a thing like a small teapot to pour salt water into one nostril so that it runs out of the other. Yoga teacher David Swenson tells a hilarious story of a more radical technique, involving the adapter tube from a bicycle pump, “sterilised” between uses with Indian tap water, that Pattabhi Jois used to inflict on students in Mysore years ago. I’m happy to report that this is no longer in the Mysore curriculum.

The Hydro Pulse is inspired by traditional neti, as Dr. Grossan acknowledges in his notes, but is supposed to be more effective because the rhythmic pumping action gets the saltwater in more effectively, and is also said to stimulate the natural pumping action of the cilia in the nose and sinuses.

First impressions: the thing feels remarkably gentle even on full pressure, but nevertheless seems to shift the salt water through more effectively than a neti pot. The handbook is excellent, with lots of helpful information, and, for an American healthcare product, quite a moderate amount of lawyer-proofing aimed at Darwin Award contenders (“do not use electrical appliances in the bath”). Some bits appear at first sight to fall into the Darwin category but, on reflection, don’t:

Q. If the nose is blocked, should I increase the pressure?
A. NO!

What sort of person would try something like that? Er, on closer inspection, me. It’s exactly the sort of thing I could see myself trying in hayfever-crazed desperation. Now I know not to. And besides, full pressure isn’t that powerful anyway. (Whaddaya mean, “some people wouldn’t put a pump contraption in their nose and immediately crank it up to full power to see what happens”. Why not? What’s wrong with them?)

It’s too early yet to say anything about the results: I’ve only had it a couple of days, and peak hayfever time for me tends to be later in the season anyway. Check back around August/September. And this year isn’t a controlled experiment anyway, because I already took a course of allegedly desensitising pollen concoction in the spring. So, in fact, check back next August/September for a really conclusive result.

Note to Darwin Award Contenders: I am not a (medical) doctor, I am merely describing my personal experiences. Nothing here is intended as any kind of advice or recommendation about what you should do.

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