Acute upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) are infections of the upper airways that can cause symptoms for up to four weeks. Acute URTIs include colds, influenza and infections of the throat, nose or sinuses. The symptoms are often treated with painkillers and decongestants. Sometimes antibiotics are prescribed, although most acute URTIs are caused by viruses. Nasal saline sprays or irrigation have been used to treat symptoms of chronic airway infections, and sometimes for acute infections.
This review is limited by the differences in the characteristics of the included studies, including study populations and outcome measures. However, it found little research to support the use of nasal saline for acute URTIs. Included studies showed limited benefit for symptoms relief with nasal saline irrigation in adults. Nasal saline is safe and may reduce time off work but may cause minor adverse effects such as dry nose or irritation in less than half of users.
Future studies are needed to establish the use of nasal saline irrigation as a way of reducing acute URTI symptoms safely while keeping people at work and reducing antibiotic use.