It just figures ó every year, I trudge through a seemingly endless, freezing, windy winter longing to see the first tiny blades of green grass poking through the dirt, the tulips rising, the trees budding.
"Amen... spring is here!" I think to myself ó for about one minute. And then I sneeze 25 times in a row.
I sneeze so hard that the snap on my jeans pops open, my dogs bark back at me thinking I'm possessed and people flee my aisle at the grocery store hoping to avoid the plague.
Heavy bags form under my itchy, bloodshot eyes. And if I am lucky, I won't totally lose my voice, but just sound like a cross between Janis Joplin and an ailing frog. From approximately March until June, my nose is glowing red and drips like a leaky faucet. When I'm writing, I shove Kleenex up my nostrils to protect my laptop. When I'm running, I look back, make sure no one is behind me, and give it the good ole' farmer's snort.
Last night, I lay wide awake in bed contemplating how wonderful it would feel if I could blast out my snot-filled head and sinuses with a fire hose. Thankfully, the next best thing sat just one room away in the bathroom ó my trusty allergy season sidekick named "Neil."
Neil is short for "NeilMed Sinus Rinse." Basically, my new best friend, Neil, is just a clear plastic bottle with black writing on the outside (the directions for use) and a black cap with a tube attached to it and a small hole on top. The bottle is filled with a solution made from mixing a NeilRinse packet and distilled water.
Last spring, a doctor friend of mine who has watched me suffer for years with crippling allergies suggested I try flushing my sinuses. Neil just happened to be the brand and style I grabbed off the pharmacy shelf; there are other similar-working devices out there.
Some people mix their own solution at home using 8 teaspoons noniodized salt plus 1 teaspoon baking soda per gallon of distilled water.
"It feels amazing," he added, more like he was talking about receiving a full-body massage than a nasal douche.
"Sure," I thought, unable to fully process the suggestion because of the half-dozen prescription and over-the-counter medications fogging my ability to understand sentences longer than two words.
I didn't believe that flooding my sinuses with a saline rinse would help tame the nasty symptoms that the strongest allergy drugs hadn't touched.
But it was worth a try. Anything was worth a try. Now, I'm hooked. Actually, many might say addicted.
I flush my nose when I wake up, before I go to bed, and sometimes in the middle of the night. I flush before and after every run, hike, any trip outdoors. I even take Neil with me on the road, placing him next to "Joe" in the car's cup holders.
With Neil at my side, that nasty pollen doesn't have a chance to set up shop in my schnoz. My friend was right. The nasal rinse not only feels great (I won't go into graphic details but let's just say the resulting snot in the sink can be startling), but it has also curbed most of my worst allergy symptoms. I still have a consistent sniffle and I sneeze every now and then, but I no longer feel like a have a bad cold for months in a row.
Another cool thing my friend passed along was www.pollen.com. I never really knew exactly what it is that sets off my allergies. This website has a map that allows you to find out the pollen count anywhere in the country. You can also sign up for alerts warning you when allergy conditions in your area have reached medium to high range.
It also gives the predominant pollens which can help determine if it's cedar, cottonwood, juniper, poplar, aspen, ash, mulberry, maple, etc., etc. that's turning your glorious springtime into a snot-fest.
My mom told me that I shouldn't say the word, "snot," in my column because it might disturb some people. But if you're like me, suffering with allergies half the year, snot is serious; I can't think of a better word to describe the misery.
Give nasal irrigation a shot. For me, it's made tip-toeing through the tulips, trail-running in the mountains, and playing with my pollen-covered pooches so much more enjoyable.
As a physician with a busy practice, Iím surprised that the same medical myths seem to persist year after year. Thatís why Iím dedicating a series of posts to debunking some of these once and for all!
Medical Myth 3: Antihistamines can help sinus infections.
Reality: Antihistamines (like those found in NyQuil or Claritin) dry up nasal secretions. That might sound like it would help a sinus infection, but in fact it can make it harder to clear up. Instead, try a decongestant, like Sudafed. Flushing out your nasal passages with a saline solution (containing water and iodine-free salt) can also help open up the nasal passages so your sinuses can drain. Do this by using a neti pot or an OTC product like NeilMed Sinus Rinse (www.neilmed.com)
NeilMed Pharmaceuticals started with one Sinus Rinse product developed in response to Dr. Ketan Mehta’s chronic allergies. The Santa Rosa-based company now has over a dozen products for nasal irrigation. Photo courtesy of NeilMed Pharmaceuticals
SANTA ROSA‚ Calif. – Most successful entrepreneurs tackle a problem‚ start a company that solves it and then hit the market. Dr. Ketan Mehta is no different – except that the problem he addressed with his NeilMed Pharmaceuticals Inc. was his own.
A sufferer of chronic allergies‚ who got sick several times a year on a consistent basis‚ Mehta had sinus surgery done in the early 1990s hoping to alleviate his problem. After his surgery‚ his doctor recommended a home remedy of taking a squeeze bottle to irrigate his nose with a salt water solution. Known as nasal irrigation‚ the practice is an old concept‚ but Mehta was struck that there was only crude methods for patients to try the practice – essentially having to come up with their own method at home. But Mehta was sold on the success of the practice in alleviating the irritation of his allergy problems.
An internal medicine and critical care medicine specialist with his own medical practice in Santa Rosa‚ Mehta saw a great opportunity to contribute with a useful product in the world of medicine that he dedicated his life to.
Mehta is a 1980 graduate of Seth G.S. Medical College and King Memorial Hospital in Mumbai and a 1987 graduate of the Wayne State School of Medicine in Detroit.
In January 2000‚ Mehta‚ along with colleague Poonam Prabhu‚ started NeilMed Pharmaceuticals and set out to develop a nasal irrigation system that would be easy for patients to obtain and use.
Working out of Mehta’s Santa Rosa medical practice‚ they took several months to develop a system. The result was Sinus Rinse‚ which the company describes as a “natural soothing saline nasal wash.” Mehta cites studies that suggest a large volume‚ low positive pressure nasal was is an effective way to irrigate the nose – and this is exactly what Sinus Rinse does. According to the company‚ nasal irrigation cleans mucus from the nose making medication more effective‚ as well as cleaning allergens‚ irritants‚ bacteria and viruses from the nose‚ which reduces the frequency of infection.
Sinus Rinse is touted as helping to alleviate nasal allergies and dryness‚ sinusitis‚ rhinitis‚ allergic asthma‚ post-nasal drip‚ sinus pressure and nasal stuffiness‚ nasal symptoms from flu and cold‚ nasal irritation from dust‚ fumes‚ animal dander‚ grass‚ pollen and smoke‚ as well as overall nasal congestion.
Despite Sinus Rinse’s immediate and effective medical applicant‚ marketing the product and getting it into pharmacies for patients to use was no easy task. NeilMed’s success in doing so over the last eight years is nothing other than a testament to perseverance.
NeilMed sold its first Sinus Rinse products in May 2000 to a small local drug store‚ in what would prove to be prophetic for the company’s early years – small and individual pharmacies would buy the product‚ but large national chains would not. Not to be dissuaded‚ Mehta continued to hawk the product wherever he could‚ taking aim at those who might recommend the product such as allergists and ear-nose-throat specialists. He took the product to medical conferences across the United States‚ hoping that if doctors started to recommend the product the national drug chains would have to carry it in stores.
Sales began to pick up and Mehta’s wife Nina joined NeilMed to help run the company. Nina is a physical therapist by trade and also ran Mehta’s medical practice office. She also graduated from Wayne State University.
However‚ large scale success continued to elude NeilMed. “We were totally unsuccessful at getting a big drug chain‚” Mehta.
But then NeilMed made some headway with Longs Drugs Stores in California. The company also got a bit of luck‚ when the supermarket chain Safeway agreed to try and stock some Sinus Rinse in its pharmacy section‚ but instead of ordering a small trial order‚ bought 24‚000 units by mistake. NeilMed launched into an Internet and direct mail marketing campaign trying to persuade previous customers to go to Safeway to buy Sinus Rinse. The strategy worked and Safeway sold enough to continue to stock Sinus Rinse.
“Viral marketing is a very‚ very important part of NeilMed’s growth because users were so happy‚” Mehta said.
In 2003‚ Dr. Ralph Metson‚ a clinical professor at Harvard Medical School‚ mentioned NeilMed’s products on “Good Morning America.” After the television plug‚ orders started to fly in. Also in 2003‚ a physician from Australia inquired about selling Sinus Rinse in Australia and NeilMed went global. The following year‚ NeilMed also opened a company in Canada to target that country.
Also in 2004‚ NeilMed signed deals with food-drug store chain Albertsons in California and supermarket chain Meijer in Michigan. By October Sinus Rinse was in 1‚400 stores across the United States. The company also moved into a 12‚000-square-foot facility‚ having moved up at increments from 1‚000 to 3‚000 to 6‚000 over recent years.
In 2005‚ Mehta credits his wife for setting her sights on Walgreens and pursuing the drug store giant doggedly. Sinus Rinse was accepted by Walgreens in April 2005‚ which opened the door to 4‚000 stores.
“We got that acceptance at Walgreens‚ so that was very‚ very exciting‚ so we started marketing nationally‚” Mehta said.
With Walgreens in the bag‚ other drug store giants were now in NeilMed’s sights and in 2006 both CVS and Rite Aid Pharmacy came on board‚ adding approximately 11‚000 more drug stores together. Sinus Rinse was now in 50 percent of American drug stores.
NeilMed also expanded to the United Kingdom and Ireland.
However‚ there was one more massive gust for NeilMed’s sails and it came from an unlikely source – Oprah Winfrey.
On April 26‚ 2007‚ Winfrey did a segment on her show about neti pots‚ which look like small tea pots and are used for traditional nasal irrigation as practiced by Indian yoga enthusiasts for thousands of years. NeilMed had a neti pot product‚ the NasaFlo Neti Pot‚ which was produced as almost an afterthought and only sold on the Web at the time. However‚ Oprah recommended NeilMed’s neti pot during her show. The show ran twice in a two week period and orders for the NasaFlo Neti Pot skyrocketed.
“There is nothing that can be as powerful as Oprah Winfrey‚” Mehta said. “After the show we started getting so much demand – our 2‚000 units were gone. They were just flying out.”
NeilMed had to hire several dozen new employees to make more neti pots.
Today NeilMed is the third-ranked internal nasal company‚ behind pharmaceutical giants such as Schering-Plough Corp. It is the top-ranked seller of saline nasal wash products. NeilMed products are in all of the top 30 drug stores in the United States and are also available at wholesalers such as Target‚ Kmart‚ Costco and BJ’s Wholesale Club.
Still‚ NeilMed did not turn a profit until 2006 and Mehta continues to work 30 hours a week in his medical office in Santa Rosa. He says‚ no matter NeilMed’s success‚ he plans to continue to be a practicing physician because medicine is what he has dedicated his life to. His passion for nasal irrigation and hard work with NeilMed simply rose out of his belief in Sinus Rinse as a good product that could help people with their sinus problems.
“We never worried about our return on investment. The goal was to get the brand out there and take great pride in doing so‚” he said. “As long as we could pay the bills‚ and live the same quality of life‚ we did not care about how much effort my wife was putting in‚ I was putting into it.”
Mehta also takes pride in evangelizing nasal irrigation as a practice in the United States‚ which‚ though it has been practiced for a long time‚ was not accepted as common. “It has become as acceptable as brushing your teeth or taking a shower‚” he said.
Patent Information USA-6,520,384 / 6,669,059 Canada-2,443,970 Australia-09/845,759 New Zealand-534041 Mexico-Pa/a/2003/009867 Other patents issued or pending