Definition & Overview

Displacement therapy of the nose refers to a procedure more popularly known as nasal or sinus irrigation. The procedure involves irrigating the nasal pathway to remove the buildup of mucus that affects a person’s breathing.

Although once considered a medical procedure that is usually performed in a doctor’s clinic or hospital setting, nasal irrigation can now be done at home or any place that is convenient.

An earlier variation of the procedure, called the Proetz technique, involved irrigating the nasal cavity using saline and ephedrine hydrochloride solution. The clinic nurse or doctor introduces the solution into one nostril and removes it via the other using a suction pump.

Initially, the solution removed from the nasal cavity will contain mucus. The procedure is repeated until the solution comes out clear, indicating that most of the mucus has been removed.

Today, nasal irrigation can be performed through a variety of techniques. Some require the use of equipment, such as a bulb syringe or neti pot, while less sophisticated techniques only require a liquid solution and the hands.

Many cultures and religions around the world practice nasal irrigation as part of their tradition. However, in the medical field, nasal irrigation plays a role in the treatment of conditions such as rhinitis and sinusitis. The procedure does not only remove mucus and debris that could make breathing difficult, but also reduces swelling and the elements that cause it.

Who Should Undergo & Expected Results

The common cold, allergic rhinitis, and sinusitis are conditions that affect a person’s normal breathing patterns by blocking the nasal passageway. This can be a result of excessive mucus production or swelling in the area.

Studies show that nasal irrigation is a cheap yet effective treatment for upper respiratory tract diseases in both adults and children. Moreover, studies show that it offers additional benefits, such as reduced use of medications like antihistamines.

In addition to being an effective treatment method, nasal irrigation can also be used in therapy, especially for patients who have recently undergone nasal surgery.

The results of nasal irrigation are almost immediate. Right after the procedure, patients should be able to breathe easier. Moreover, it has been observed that many of the symptoms associated with a particular condition are reduced, such as headaches and inflammation.

How Does the Procedure Work?

There are a number of techniques used in nasal irrigation. Regardless of whether a device was used in the process or not, the concept of the procedure remains the same; to clear the nasal passageway of mucus and other debris.

In the Proetz method, the objective is accomplished by using a suction pump that creates negative pressure to draw the solution from the nostrils.

If the procedure is performed using a neti pot, gravity is used to draw the liquid into the nostril and out the other. Excess fluid or mucus can then be forced out by simply blowing the nose.

Most nasal irrigation procedures performed at a doctor’s clinic or hospital environment make use of a saline solution, which is a mixture of salt and plain water. However, patients who choose to perform the procedure at home may use just plain water.

It is important to use water that has been boiled previously and set aside to cool down. Sterile or distilled water may also be used. Any device or equipment used in this process must also be sterile. This is to avoid the liquid from being contaminated with bacteria. Contaminated fluids may worsen the patient’s condition.

Nasal irrigation is performed with the head tilted at an angle, with one nostril pointed upward and the other down. The solution is then poured into the nostril facing up. Most of the liquid will flow through the sinus passageway and exit the nostril facing down. However, a little bit may enter the throat. If this happens, spitting out the liquid will prevent it from entering the throat and digestive system.

The procedure may be repeated several times until most of the blockage has been released and the patient feels a bit of relief from the symptoms.

Possible Risks and Complications

If done properly, nasal irrigation is a safe procedure. As long as both the solution and equipment used are sterile, the risks and complications are very limited.

However there have been reports of mild complications, such as nose bleeds and nasal irritation. Such complications are rare and should they occur, they usually resolve on their own without medical intervention.

One complication that is a cause for concern is an infection. The chances of an infection developing can be reduced by ensuring that the procedure is performed in a sterile environment.

Should an infection occur, patients are advised to consult a doctor as soon as possible. Infections need to be treated promptly to prevent them from spreading. Patients need to understand that if an infection does develop, it will likely be in a critical area because the nasal cavity is near the brain. If the infection spreads, it could affect the person’s eyesight or brain functions.

The signs and symptoms of an infection include severe headaches, fever, nausea, a sore throat, nausea and vomiting. If the infection is not treated accordingly, it can result in a life-threatening condition or even death.


  • Department of Health, Government of Western Australia; “Nasal Irrigation – Is it safe?”;

  • D.J. Roux; “Observation on the Proetz Displacement Therapy in Sinusitis”;

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