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Isotonic vs. Hypertonic: Which Saline Sinus Rinse Works Best for You?

Saline Sinus RinseWe often receive customer inquiries about the difference between isotonic and hypertonic saline sinus rinse solutions. Both saline solutions wash germs, allergens, and other pollutants out of the sinuses. However, some customers find that hypertonic solutions work better for them, while others experience uncomfortable burning or stinging sensations when they use hypertonic solutions. What's the difference, and how can a saline sinus rinse help your allergies or cold?

Hypertonic Saline Sinus Rinse

Simply put, saline is salt water. When it comes to a saline rinse, there are three basic types - isotonic, hypertonic, and hypotonic. "Iso" means "equal", "hyper" means "high", and "hypo" means "low". With regard to saline, these prefixes refer to the salinity or amount of salt in the solution.

Hypertonic saline has a higher concentration of salt. For congestion or a runny nose a hypertonic solution may be helpful. While some physicians recommend hypertonic solutions because a higher concentration of salt may draw fluid and mucus out more effectively, many patients experience a burning sensation when they use hypertonic solutions. It is strongly recommended that prior to using a hypertonic rinse to consult a physician. If you experience painful burning or stinging when using a hypertonic saline wash, you should stop using it. If your sinus membranes are badly inflamed or sensitive, where the simple sensation of touch could be enough to cause pain, and you should see a doctor and likely avoid a hypertonic saline rinse.

SaltAire Sinus Relief is one of the best-selling hypertonic saline sinus washes. The saline solution is pre-mixed, and it comes in an easy-to-use, manually operated pump bottle, which gives you convenient fingertip control over the flow of the saline.

Isotonic Saline Sinus Rinse

Isotonic saline solutions have a lower concentration of salt. "Iso" means equal, and an isotonic solution should be perfectly balanced for your body.

If your nose is very dry, you may find that a hypertonic solution dries it out even more, while an isotonic solution should restore some moisture to sinus passages. Due to a lower salt content, isotonic solutions do not draw out excess moisture and mucus like hypertonic solutions do. However, because they are balanced, they make for an excellent way to rinse away allergens and moisturize.

It's important to keep in mind that the difference between a isotonic and hypertonic solution is relatively small. It does not take a great deal of salt to make a significant impact in how the rinse performs and feels when you use it. This is important to keep in mind, particularly if you mix your own saline sinus solution.

The NeilMed Sinus Rinse Kit and the Neilmed NasaFlo Neti Pot Kit come with packets of saline mix, and you just add water to create your own isotonic solution. The NasaFlo Neti Pot Kit relies on gravity to wash out the sinuses, and therefore you don't have to use force or pressure. Sinus rinsing should be gentle and soothing, not painful. If you wish to try a hypertonic solution with your NeilMed sinus rinse kit, you may create your own by using two Neilmed Mixture Packets instead of one.

As a more recently developed sinus rinse, SinuAir Nasal Wash System operates along the same principles. Whether you purchase as a bottle of saline mix powder, in single use packets or as part of a complete nasal wash system, SinuAir is a safe and effective way to cleanse the sinuses. You can vary the strength and create a hypertonic solution by varying the concentration or reducing the water, and all is free of harsh chemicals or preservatives.

The SinuPulse Nasal Irrigation System is the latest addition to the sinus irrigator family. The SinuPulse operates on the same principles as the HydroPulse system with a few improvements. With dual spray operation features and an LED display, the SinuPulse Elite also comes standard with SinuAir saline mix.

Tips for Using A Saline Sinus Rinse

Whether you're using a SinuPulse, HydroPulse, a bottle, or a neti pot, water temperature is important. If the water is too hot or too cold, it could cause unpleasant sensations. The water should be pleasantly warm, roughly matching your body temperature.

You should also rinse off your irrigator tip, bottle, or net poti with hot water and soap after each use to prevent bacterial growth.

To learn more about nasal irrigation and how to create your saline rinse.

To learn about other solutions to sinus problems, see our Sinus Problems Solution Guide.

Shop all of our Nasal Irrigation Products.