Various protective face masks, worn by many people during the coronavirus pandemic, are on display for sale outside a shop in Berlin, April 2, 2020(AFP)
Various protective face masks, worn by many people during the coronavirus pandemic, are on display for sale outside a shop in Berlin, April 2, 2020(AFP)

How nasyam can protect you from respiratory tract infection

By T. Jacob John
UPDATED ON APR 03, 2020 01:13 PM IST

When I was a child, my parents taught me nasyam, the ayurvedic home remedy for severe cold and sinusitis. The technique is to suck in copious amounts of warm salt water and once it accumulates in your throat, spit it out. No amount of water should be swallowed. This procedure must be repeated a few times through one nostril, and then with the other. Also you can blow your nose once or twice to remove mucus and any residual saline in the nasal passages. Over the years, I have immensely benefitted from this remedy. The same holds true for many others in my family. I have been able to avoid antibiotics on many occasions as my sinusitis settled rapidly with nasyam.

Anecdotal evidence is not objective evidence; but now there is objective scientific evidence of its usefulness. On October 11, 2016, the clinical virology department of the Christian Medical College celebrated its golden jubilee with an international symposium on medical virology. One of my old students, Sandeep Ramalingam, a senior faculty member of the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh, UK, gave a talk on nasyam and gargling, and presented scientific evidence on antiviral effects of chloride ions in the nasal mucosal cells.

In yoga, a similar procedure, nasal douche, with salt water is practiced called jala neti. In the western world, jala neti has become popular for treatment of nasal allergies and infections. They use a neti pot or jar, made in copper or plastic, with a nozzle to fit the nostril. Since neti requires a neti pot, nasyam is what I prefer.

The medical use of neti and nasyam has been researched by scientists in Australia, the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom. Unfortunately no such research has happened in its country of origin, India. These researches show that saline therapy in the nose protects against wood dust allergy and reduces the severity and duration of common cold.

Ramalingam investigated nasyam and gargling with saline and clinched the pathway – chloride ions do the trick, sodium is irrelevant, but without sodium chloride, in other words sea salt, choride ions cannot be delivered on nasal mucosa easily and without irritation or toxicity. Inside mucosal epithelial cells chlorine in chloride is converted to hypochlorous acid which effectively kills viruses that are already in the cells. This was the take-home lesson from his talk in Vellore in 2016.

We are in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19), caused by the respiratory tract infection. The immediate question that arises from the above background is the potential of nasyam or neti as prophylactic or therapeutic for Covid-19. On March 29, 2020, the Journal of Global Health carried a paper by Ramalingam and colleagues, suggesting that hypertonic saline nasal irrigation and gargling should be considered as a treatment option for Covid-19.

There is no study so far, but here is a simple and harmless procedure that may help protect your nasal mucosa from getting infected by any respiratory virus. I am sure that scientists in various biomedical research institutions will begin research to measure its prophylactic and therapeutic value in this epidemic in India.

We promote repeated hand-washing with soap and water; in certain situations, repeated salt-water nasyam may help prevent infection with any virus or even treat infection as it has documented anti-viral property.

Now that we are all at home, practice nasyam. If anyone gets symptoms of cold or sore throat, everyone in the household could practice nasyam and gargling, with warm salt water, made with boiled and cooled water, with salt to taste just perceptibly salty, and use for nasal washes and gargling about every 4 hours during waking time.

T. Jacob John is fomer head, the Indian Council for Medical Research’s Centre for Advanced Research in Virology.

The views expressed are personal

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