Helping Clean the Nose: The Solution to Pollution is Dilution.   

First some background    

    The idea of cleaning the body is relatively new in the history of mankind. Until water supplies were made safe in the last century water was known to be the carrier of deadly diseases like cholera. Our current ideas about washing began with Ignaz Semmelweis.

    In the 1840’s  Semmelweis found out that women in labor were less likely to get "childbed fever" if the doctors washed their hands in a solution of chloride and lime before they examined the women. Childbed fever, or Puerperal sepsis, was caused by bacteria that the doctors carried on their hands from the dissecting room to their patients in labor. Many people died from infections in that day and the doctors picked up the bacteria as they were dissecting – without gloves – and introduced them to the women they then examined.  Fifteen percent of women giving birth in hospitals were dying because of these infections. The hand-washing worked in Vienna, but Semmelweis could not persuade his colleagues elsewhere that they were causing their patients illness. Twenty years later Pasteur, and his germ theory, showed that Semmelweis was right, but even then most physicians would not even accept Pasteur’s findings. Hand-washing, and what doctors call aseptic technique, was not accepted until the 1880’s. Even the stubborn could not refute what they were seeing under the lenses of their ever more common microscopes. The CDC tells us "Hand-washing is the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection." It is easy to see the benefit of hand washing before surgery or any hands-on-exam that may introduce bacteria into the body. It is harder to see the benefit of regular hand washing in the absence of this invasive exposure – but we invade ourselves. The bacteria that make us sick don’t get into our bodies through our hands, but we put our hands to our own faces and the bacteria invade through eyes, nose and to a lesser extent the mouth. The unstated purpose of hand washing is to protect the face and especially the nose, because that is where most infections enter. An excellent review of the history of hand-washing is found at the web site for access excellence

    This web site also tells the story of some New York pediatricians who complained to the city's health board that the boards promotion and teaching of good hygiene, which included hand washing, to the city's mothers was adversely effecting their practices. A system that pays physicians, who are supposed to keep us well, only when we are sick can, at times, lead to problems – and some of them may still be with us. For more about this see the story of Sara Baker at


How about washing the nose?

     The Iowa researchers, mentioned earlier and covered in a different page,  used 5% (near normal osmolality) of xylitol in a nasal spray. They found several important benefits of xylitol:

These researchers referred to  the work of the Finns with xylitol, but gave little credit to the effects of xylitol on particular bacteria demonstrated by the Finnish studies. I believe these effects are very significant. 


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Laryngoscope 1999 Mar;109(3):396-9

Physiologic and hypertonic saline solutions impair ciliary activity in vitro.

Boek WM, Keles N, Graamans K, Huizing EH

Department of Otorhinolaryngology, University Hospital Utrecht, The Netherlands.

OBJECTIVE/HYPOTHESIS: Physiologic saline (NaCl 0.9%) is commonly used in treating acute and chronic rhinosinusitis. Moreover, physiologic saline is used as a control medium, vehicle, or solvent in studies on ciliary beat frequency (CBF). Hypertonic saline (NaCl 7% and 14.4%) has been applied in attempts to enhance mucociliary transport in patients with cystic fibrosis or asthma and in healthy subjects. Therefore the objective of this study is to document in vitro effects of saline solutions in different concentrations on CBF. STUDY DESIGN: Experimental, in vitro. METHODS: The effects on CBF of cryopreserved mucosa of the sphenoidal sinus was measured by a photoelectrical method. Initial frequencies, measured in Locke-Ringer's solution (LR), were compared with CBF after exposure to NaCl in concentrations of 0.9%, 7.0%, and 14.4% (w/v). RESULTS: NaCl 0.9% has a moderately negative effect on CBF. The 7% solution leads to a complete ciliostasis within 5 minutes, although this effect turns out to be reversible after rinsing with LR. A hypertonic solution of 14.4% has an irreversible ciliostatic effect. CONCLUSION: LR is an isotonic solution that has no effect on CBF. Therefore it is probable that this solution is more appropriate than saline for nasal irrigation and nebulization or antral lavage. Moreover, the results of this study suggest that mucolytic effects induced by hyperosmolarity should be attained preferably with hypertonic saline 7% in patients with cystic fibrosis or asthma. At this concentration, the ciliostatic effect is reversible, whereas irreversible changes are to be expected at higher concentrations.

PMID: 10089964
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2000 Oct 10;97(21):11614-9
[A free full text of this article is available at]
The osmolyte xylitol reduces the salt concentration of airway surface liquid and may enhance bacterial killing.

Zabner J, Seiler MP, Launspach JL, Karp PH, Kearney WR, Look DC, Smith JJ, Welsh MJ

Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Departments of Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, and Physiology and Biophysics, and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Facility, University of Iowa College of Medicine, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA.

The thin layer of airway surface liquid (ASL) contains antimicrobial substances that kill the small numbers of bacteria that are constantly being deposited in the lungs. An increase in ASL salt concentration inhibits the activity of airway antimicrobial factors and may partially explain the pathogenesis of cystic fibrosis (CF). We tested the hypothesis that an osmolyte with a low transepithelial permeability may lower the ASL salt concentration, thereby enhancing innate immunity. We found that the five-carbon sugar xylitol has a low transepithelial permeability, is poorly metabolized by several bacteria, and can lower the ASL salt concentration in both CF and non-CF airway epithelia in vitro. Furthermore, in a double-blind, randomized, crossover study, xylitol sprayed for 4 days into each nostril of normal volunteers significantly decreased the number of nasal coagulase-negative Staphylococcus compared with saline control. Xylitol may be of value in decreasing ASL salt concentration and enhancing the innate antimicrobial defense at the airway surface.

PMID: 11027360
Am Rev Respir Dis 1988 Mar;137(3):606-12

In vivo release of inflammatory mediators by hyperosmolar solutions.

Silber G, Proud D, Warner J, Naclerio R, Kagey-Sobotka A, Lichtenstein L, Eggleston P

Department of Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland 21205.

Hyperosmolar environments induce histamine release from mast cells and basophils in vitro. To assess whether the same stimulus induces mediator release in vivo, 15 healthy human volunteers underwent nasal challenges with instilled solutions of differing osmolalities: lactated Ringer's solution (257 +/- 3 mOsm/kg), isosmolar mannitol (277 +/- 6 mOsm/kg), and hyperosmolar mannitol (869 +/- 8 mOsm/kg). The effect of these challenges on the volume, osmolality, and inflammatory mediator content of subsequent 5-ml isosmolar lavages was determined. The volumes of lavages returned after hyperosmolar challenges were significantly greater than those after isosmolar challenges (5.5 +/- 0.2 ml versus 4.2 +/- 0.1 ml; p less than 0.01) and these lavage solutions had higher osmolalities. Even when corrected for increased volumes, the lavages after hyperosmolar challenges contained significantly higher quantities of inflammatory mediators such as histamine (29.0 versus 10.1 ng; p less than 0.01), TAME-esterase activity (32.7 versus 11.1 cpm x 10(-3); p less than 0.01), and immunoreactive leukotrienes (9.9 versus 3.4 ng; p less than 0.01). The changes in mediators were dose dependent in that incremental increase in challenge osmolality were associated with incremental increases in histamine release. Therefore, when exposed to hyperosmolar stimuli in vivo, the nasal respiratory airway releases inflammatory mediators and fluid rapidly shifts into the airway lumen. It has been suggested that the mediator release observed on breathing cold and dry air is due to increased osmolality of airway secretions; the present data confirm that osmotic variations at the airway surface can provide an adequate stimulus for cell activation.

PMID: 2449834


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