Simple nasal rinses are well known to help alleviate some symptoms of allergic conditions such as rhinitis (which causes inflammation inside the nose) but they could also help with chest and breathlessness symptoms in asthma as well, according to new research presented at the British Thoracic Society Winter Meeting.

Many people with severe asthma also suffer from rhinitis, but researchers at Birmingham Regional Severe Asthma Services within Heartlands Hospital, Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust, will tell delegates that nasal conditions aren't always focused on in an asthma clinic - but 'shouldn't be overlooked.'

In the research, 30 patients with severe asthma and rhinosinusitis were taught to rinse their nasal passages with a simple saline rinse kit - initially 1-2 times a day. Their symptoms were assessed before starting treatment and again three months later.

The impact of the nasal rinsing was evaluated in a number of ways:

  • Patient questionnaires on their nasal and chest symptoms
  • Asthma Control Questionnaire (ACQ) scores which evaluated patient-reported use of bronchodilators (a medication that makes breathing easier by widening the airways), wheeze, night-time breathlessness symptoms and FEV1 (a measurement of how well the lungs are functioning).

After three months:

  • nearly 9 in 10 (88%) reported improved nasal symptoms
  • over 6 in 10 (62%) reported improved chest symptoms
  • nearly 7 in 10 (69%) showed a clinically measured and significant decrease in nasal symptoms
  • over 8 in 10 (83%) showed clinically significant improved 'asthma control' scores

Anita Clarke, senior physiotherapist from Birmingham Regional Severe Asthma Services, and member of the British Thoracic Society, who led the research, said:

"Our study has shown that nasal irrigation can certainly help reduce nasal symptoms and also reduce asthma symptoms.

Two thirds of patients with severe asthma also suffer with rhinitis. This can lead to nasal congestion forcing patients to adopt abnormal breathing patterns such as mouth breathing which exposes the airways to cold dehumidified air. This, along with the abnormal breathing pattern itself, can make asthma symptoms worse. Often after the very first nasal rinse patients feel less congested, they can breathe more easily and have an improved sense of smell and taste.

This is an inexpensive and easy-to-use treatment which can provide instant relief from some nasal symptoms. The ability to 'nose breathe' is an essential part of an efficient breathing pattern, and this study shows the treatment can provide the added benefit of helping people with asthma feel they can breathe more easily. We now hope to extend this research using a larger controlled study to further investigate these findings."