How To Beat The Flu

It’s flu season and that means the timeless battle between staying healthy and feeling like crap has once more reared its head. The pharmaceutical companies trot out the usual array of medicines that treat the symptoms or the shots that address last year’s various strains. But there’s little that can be done to stave off the influenza virus. Right?


Last year I had a horrible sinus infection that lasted about two months. I went early on to the doctor and, of course, got a prescription for antibiotics, which didn’t work. I was miserable. My sinuses were a wreck and this virus then spread to my upper respiratory system. I hacked up a rainbow of mucus and wondered how the hell I was going to get rid of this particular infection.

In late October, my brother-in-law’s mother, Fran, saw me at a family event where I was my (by then) usual “bag of shite” (as my friends across the pond like to say). She mentioned her own battles with sinus infections and then told me about a little thing that had made all the difference in the world. And I’m going to share it with you today.

It’s called a neti pot.

Now, before you start rolling your eyes, hear me out. I don’t consider myself any type of yogi. I’m most assuredly not a vegetarian, macrobiotic, or overly New Age. And as a result of my background, I tend to come from the “try-it-and-if-it-works-once-keep-trying-until-we-can-trust-it” school of thought. But I also know that the simplest solutions are also sometimes the best.

I went to my local CVS and found a little box called “Sinu Cleanse” over on the cold/flu aisle and picked it up. Inside was a small neti pot, which resembles a tea pot of sorts. It also came with a plastic spoon and twenty packets of salt. I think it cost about ten bucks.

Back at home, I opened it up and set about reading the directions. The idea being that you fill the pot with warm water, mix in one packet of salt, and then insert the tip of the neti pot into one nostril, tilt forward until the water flows up your nasal passage and then flows out of the other back into the sink. The idea is that the salt water cleanses the passages and removes all the gunk inside.

Why is this important? Growing up, my father told me that the three main ways you get sick are through the eyes, the nose and the mouth. People tend to rub their eyes and transfer infection into the tear ducts. The air we breathe is also rife with germs and most of those get lodged into the nose, which uses hairs to trap larger particles. But the smaller ones find a nice warm, moist home in the mucus lining of your nasal passages.

The neti cleans house. Literally.

Not only does it clean the passages, but it also makes that mucus lining inhospitable to germs seeking to set up shop there and then invade the rest of your body.

Within a day of using the neti pot last year, I was finally on the mend. It took a little bit of continued effort to dislodge the infection (the old Napoleonic theory was that it took three invaders to dislodge one dug-in defender) but it finally yielded. And I was convinced.

I have continued using the neti pot over the last year. As a result, any colds or bugs have not been able to take root in my body for long. As soon as I start feeling like something’s coming on, it’s straight to the neti pot and then I follow that up with about three more sessions over the course of the day. (It’s safe enough to do up to four times per day without damaging your sinuses). And that is usually enough to knock whatever germs I’ve gotten out.

As I said, I’m not preaching out of some New Age philosophy here. The medical community has actually embraced sinus flushing as a viable means of staying well. And I can tell you that it works. I intend to steer clear of flu shots and I haven’t taken any over-the-counter medicines since last year because I haven’t needed to.

Please note that there are also types of saline inhalers that you can buy that you stick up your nostril, pump some saline up and then that’s supposed to be it. I don’t like those because they don’t provide a constant flow of water over the passages. Stick with the neti pot. When you run out of salt packets, use kosher or sea salt.

It takes some time and practice to get it down to where it works for you. I’ve had to adjust the amount of salt I use because I overloaded one time and it stung like hell. But I tell you, this thing works. I’m amazed at it, but it makes perfect sense.

When I went through survival training, the instructors always harped about hydration. In the field, when you urinate, it should be clear and not stink. If it’s dark and smelly, you’re dehydrated. I view the mucus in the same way. If you blow your nose and see a Skittles package on the tissue, you’ve got some gunk that needs cleaning. The mucus should be as clear as possible.

I don’t neti everyday, but this time of year I increase the frequency. You’ll find it comes in handy at other times as well. Doing yard work with the lawn mower, leaf blower, etc. you’ll come in and have a ton of crap up there from breathing in dust. People suffering from allergies have also reported amazing benefits from using a neti.

If you hate taking medications and feeling like hell during the winter months, I can’t recommend this enough. And believe me: I hated getting water up my nose as a kid. But I’ve learned to relax and let the neti process clean out the toxins. It’s fantastic stuff. And for ten bucks, you can’t beat it in these economic times.

Of course, you can also buy high-end neti pots made from fancy ceramics and whatnot, but why bother when a simple plastic pot does the job quite well? I know a lot of you might grimace and frown and roll your eyes and say, “jeez, that’s gross, Jon” because I was the same way.

Then I tried it.

It works, people. It really does. So if you’re tired of suffering through cold and flu season, check it out. I hope it does for you what it has done for me.

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  • Mike Oliveri November 17, 2008  

    I love my neti pot. Discovered it last year as well. This year I finally got my wife to try it, and she’s a convert, too.

  • jonfmerz November 17, 2008  

    My wife was truly hesitant as well, Mike, but I think she’s going to be into it now because it’s the only thing that seems to be helping the infection she has right now.

    Thanks for the note! Hope you’re well!

  • Macgyver November 17, 2008  

    I seem to be pretty lucky and don’t get many colds or the flu, but I’ll keep this in mind as it could screw me up for recording if I do.

    My fool proof method so far has been lemsip, lockets and Heinz Cream of Chicken soup. Knocks the cold away in a couple of days and doesn’t involved water up the snooter but I understand how that would work too 😉

  • Leslie Irish Evans November 18, 2008  

    Not only does the saltwater help kill bacteria but it also helps to shrink the sinus tissues (through simple osmosis). My naturopath suggests doing a somewhat saltier than normal neti flush. Too much salt can sting, so she suggests adding a bit of baking soda. This buffers the feeling of the salt and makes it more comfortable, without reducing its effect.

  • jonfmerz November 18, 2008  

    Thanks for the info, Leslie! I was hoping you’d chime in with your experiences!

  • The CVS packets actually contain a mix of salt and baking soda, about 70/30 or so. Works great, though frightening the first couple of times you do it 🙂

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