A nasal rinse product invented by a Santa Rosa physician to treat colds and allergies is now finding its way to American service members in dusty Afghanistan.

NeilMed Pharmaceuticals has already shipped about 6,000 of its sinus rinse kits overseas, and the company has pledged to donate $2 million worth of its products to troops or firefighters exposed to nasal irritants.

"We keep getting requests every couple of days," said Dr. Ketan Mehta, a pulmonary and critical care specialist who is the company's CEO and holds a patent on the sinus rinse kits sold in stores in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia.

The company located near the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport has pledged to donate 100,000 sinus rinse kits and 100,000 bottles of gel nasal spray, Mehta said.

Troops in Afghanistan face more dire threats from rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs, but sand and dust — driven by the wind and kicked up by helicopter landings and heavy vehicles — is a nuisance.

For soldiers exposed to sand and a dry climate, NeilMed products "are perfect options for keeping their noses clean, moist and clear and keeping themselves healthy so they are able to work to the best of their ability without any of the side effects of drugs," said Dr. Brent Senior, an ear, nose and throat surgeon at the University of North Carolina.

Senior played a role in NeilMed's donation, following an inquiry last summer from a nurse in his department, Katie Sams, whose husband was serving at Camp Leatherneck in southern Afghanistan, according to a report in the News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C.

Sams said her husband was having trouble breathing after sandstorms had clogged his nose and sinuses, and asked Senior if the sales rep for NeilMed might donate some of his products.

Senior called Mehta, and the donation was launched.

"We at NeilMed are happy to have a way to help (the troops) and express our appreciation for their service," said Nina Mehta, the company president.

Army Capt. Dallas Austin sent the Mehtas an e-mail last month thanking them for the donation of more than 1,000 units of sinus rinse.

"As the cold and flu season arrives, we are already seeing the benefits of using your products and we truly appreciate all the time and effort everyone has put forward to support us. All 180 of my soldiers and thousands more at Kandahar Airfield Afghanistan sends their gratitude," he said.

Troops in a war zone face greater dangers, Ketan Mehta said, but sinus troubles are not to be overlooked. "For normal function, you really need to breathe well through your nose," he said.

NeilMed products are typically sold over the counter for treatment of nasal mucus, colds, allergies, postnasal drip and nasal dryness.

(You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.)