Several hundred people ask Google each month: nasal Irrigation doesn’t come out of the other nostril: Why and what to do about it?
This is a question that parents of some babies with bronchiolitis, whom I treat for “chest physiotherapy,” also ask me regularly. They feel like they are really struggling to properly clear their baby’s nose.
Or it could be adults who are trying to do regular nasal washes. It could also be student physiotherapists and interns who want to do everything right.
So, I will answer this question in detail. But for those in a hurry, here’s the most direct answer: No, it is not serious if the saline solution doesn’t come out of the other nostril. You don’t need to desperately try to make the liquid come out the other side!
Let’s take a closer look for those who want more information.
Enjoy your reading🙂!
Last update: August 2023
A little reminder about different nose-blowing techniques
There are essentially 2 different ways to blow your nose (or that of your baby):
- The simplest and most common: you take a tissue (ideally…) and blow your nose to expel the secretions.
- The more sophisticated: in addition to blowing, you introduce a liquid into the nose (saline solution, saline wash, etc.). This can be done with a dropper, a nasal spray, a syringe, a rhino horn… it doesn’t matter.
This second, “more sophisticated” nose-blowing technique goes by different names and variations, but it all comes down to the same thing:
- Nasal irrigation
- Nasal wash with a syringe
- Nasal douche
- Nasal flushing
- Nasal rinse
- Nasal lavage
- NeilMed sinus rinse
- Neti pot: you are worry because water stuck in sinuses?
- Saline irrigation of the nose
All these techniques can be used at any age, starting from the first days of a baby’s life (with appropriate adaptations, of course).
Why is it said that saline solution should come out through the other nostril?
When we blow our nose with saline solution (or a seawater-based solution), it is often recommended to:
- Tilt the head to one side
- Pour the liquid into one nostril so that it comes out through the other nostril
This action has three purposes:
- Cleaning the nasal passages
- Removing mucus and airborne particles
- Hydrating the nasal mucosa
However, it is not necessary for the saline solution to come out through the other nostril!
In fact, this advice is given because, mechanically, it often happens that way.
Due to the shape of the nasal passages and gravity, the nasal cavities are connected through the pharynx, so the excess liquid will naturally flow to the lower nostril when tilting the head.
By doing this, it is hoped that the liquid will reach more areas and better cleanse the nose. However, it is entirely possible to effectively clean the nose without the saline solution coming out through the other nostril!
Why does the saline solution sometimes not come out from the other side?
There are several possible and completely harmless reasons why the saline solution doesn’t come out from the other nostril.
- Nasal obstruction: The nasal passages may be partially blocked. This can be due to the shape of your nasal septum or sometimes caused by nasal polyps or allergies.
- Insufficient head tilt: It can be challenging to coordinate everything, and perhaps you didn’t fully tilt your head when applying the liquid.
Is it serious if the saline solution doesn’t come out from the other nostril?
It is absolutely not serious if the saline solution doesn’t come out from the other nostril!
The important thing is to moisten and clean the nasal passages, regardless of the amount of liquid that comes out from the other nostril.
It will come out eventually! Let’s see where the saline solution goes if it doesn’t come out from the other nostril.
Where does the liquid go if it doesn’t come out from the other side?
The saline solution can go to different places. Often, it goes to a few of these places at the same time.
- Either it comes out from the same nostril through which you inserted it.
- Or it goes into the pharynx and then:
- It goes into the mouth and esophagus, heading to the stomach to be digested, which is perfectly fine.
- It goes into the mouth and comes out as saliva or spitting, which is also not a problem.
- Or it stays in the nasal passages for a while and eventually comes out from one of the nostrils or the pharynx. No worries!
Regardless of where the saline solution goes, if it doesn’t come out from the other nostril, it will be digested, spat out, or come out from the same nostril without causing any problems.
Saline solution does not go into a baby’s lungs
Some people may worry that when the saline solution doesn’t come out from the other side, it might go into the baby’s lungs. But rest assured, it doesn’t happen that way!
Babies, including those with disabilities, have a cough reflex that prevents the liquid from entering the lungs through the trachea.
So, the saline solution does not go into a baby’s lungs! Instead, it goes into the mouth and is either spit out or swallowed, eventually reaching the stomach, not the lungs!
What to do if the nasal rinse doesn’t come out from the other nostril?
There is nothing specific to do at the moment if you notice that the saline solution doesn’t come out from the other nostril.
You don’t necessarily need to blow your nose again.
Here’s what you can do:
- Wait for a few minutes to allow the liquid to spread throughout the nasal cavities before gently blowing your nose to remove the excess liquid.
- Tilt your head slightly in the opposite direction to facilitate the flow of the liquid.
Do you need to change the blowing technique if it doesn’t come out from the other side? No, absolutely not.
If the blowing technique you are using works for you, you can continue using it even if the saline solution doesn’t come out from the other nostril!
Here’s what I wanted to tell you about this! I wish you a very good recovery! Do you have any comments or questions? Your comments are welcome 🙂 !
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You may also like:
King D, Mitchell B, Williams CP, Spurling GK. Saline nasal irrigation for acute upper respiratory tract infections. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Apr 20;2015(4):CD006821. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD006821.pub3. PMID: 25892369; PMCID: PMC9475221.
Chirico et al. Nasal congestion in infants and children: a Literature review on efficacy and safety of non-pharmacological treatments. Minerva Pediatrica 2014 December;66(6):549-57
Written by Nelly Darbois
I love to write articles that are based on my experience as a physical therapist and extensive research in the international scientific literature.
I live in the French Alps 🌞❄️ where I work as scientific editor for my own website, where you are.