When I was little and my grandmother urged me to “keep my nose clean,” she meant that I should behave myself and stay out of trouble. But there’s also a more literal meaning to the phrase—the practice of nasal irrigation. Its purpose: To flush out troublesome viruses, bacteria and allergens that could trigger or exacerbate infections (colds, flu, sinusitis) and allergy symptoms. Considering how many people have been plagued by especially severe allergy symptoms this season, now is a good time to investigate this practice.

Otolaryngologist Michael D. Seidman, MD, medical director of wellness at the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Henry Ford Health System in West Bloomfield, Michigan, explained to me, “There are several methods, but they all use a saltwater-and-baking-soda solution—which your nose loves because it opens up and clears out the nasal passages and sinuses.” With each method, a device is gently inserted into one nostril…warm water is fed through…and the water drains out of the other nostril. Then the process is repeated on the other side.

Some people are resistant to the idea of nasal irrigation, but there’s nothing to fear. Dr. Seidman says, “You won’t drown, the water won’t go down your throat and you can breath through your mouth while you’re irrigating.”

I asked Dr. Seidman about a recent small study suggesting that long-term use of nasal irrigation, practiced daily for a year, could actually increase the risk for recurrent sinus infections. He said that this particular study has been contradicted by numerous larger studies showing nasal irrigation to be beneficial. His recommendation: Use one of the following irrigation methods once daily, particularly when you have nasal or sinus congestion. If nasal symptoms persist, see your doctor. Options…

Easy: Sinus rinse kit. This includes a squirt bottle and premixed packets of pH-balanced sodium chloride and sodium bicarbonate (salt and baking soda). You pour the powder into the bottle and mix it with eight ounces of lukewarm water…lean over a sink, keeping your head upright, and insert the bottle’s nozzle into one nostril…and gently squeeze the bottle to control the rate of flow of the saltwater/baking soda solution. Good brand: NeilMed Sinus Rinse, about $12 for the kit with 50 premixed packets (877-477-8633, www.NeilMed.com), available at drugstores and online.

Economical: Neti pot. This resembles a small teapot with a narrow spout that fits comfortably into the nostril. Do-it-yourself saltwater solution: Stir one teaspoon of salt (which kills bacteria) and one-quarter teaspoon of baking soda (to make the solution pH-neutral and discourage new bacterial growth) into one quart of warm water. Leaning over a sink, tilt your head sideways so that your right nostril is directly above the left…insert the spout into the right nostril…then pour—the water will drain out of the left nostril. Neti pots can be purchased at drugstores, health-food stores and some supermarkets, including Whole Foods Market…prices start at about $10.

High-tech: Pulsatile irrigation system. This includes a handheld device that resembles an electric toothbrush with a small nozzle at the head that sprays irrigation solution in a gentle pulsating rhythm. Studies suggest that this pulsatile irrigation method helps to safely restore the mobility of the cilia (tiny hairs in the nasal passages and sinuses), improving their ability to sweep away debris and remove toxins. Pulsatile irrigation products, such as SinuPulse Elite (800-305-4095, www.SinuPulse.com) and Hydro Pulse (800-560-9007, www.HydroMedonline.com), are available online and at some drugstores and household-goods retailers for about $100.