The untold truth of neti pots

There’s no doubt when you’ve had a cold, sinus infection, or suffered from allergies, a friend, family member, or medical professional suggested you try a neti pot. But, um, what exactly is it? According to The Mayo Clinic, neti pots are used to rid the nasal cavity of mucus and other debris. The popular nasal irrigation device is often used as an alternative to saline spray, and looks kind of like a genie’s lamp — but without the genie. You can purchase a neti pot fairly inexpensively at a pharmacy or grocery store, and devotees swear by ’em, saying the devices are easy to use, and effective. But are neti pots safe? The short answer: When used properly, yes. You still need to know what the potential risks are if you decide to neti pot your way to clearer sinuses. 

The most important thing to keep in mind when using a neti pot is to use pre-made saline solution, or to make a saltwater solution with distilled or sterilized water, or previously-boiled water. We’ll get back to why that is so key in a moment.

Neti pot usage tips and potential dangers

First, let’s explore how to use a neti pot. You’ll tilt your head sideways over a sink, with the spout of the neti pot inserted into your upper nostril. Be sure to breathe through your mouth. Then, pour the solution into the nostril, allowing it to drain through the lower nostril. Move onto the other side.

Always properly clean the device after every use (via FDA). Also, wash your hand thoroughly before use. And, never use tap water because it contains low levels of bacteria you wouldn’t want to infuse into your nose where it can grow and potentially harm you.

You may have read about a 69-year-old Seattle woman who passed away after using a neti pot for about a month (via Healthline). She had contracted a rare, brain-eating amoebic infection, possibly from tap water. But Dr. Joseph Dohar, clinical director of the Pediatric Voice, Resonance and Swallowing Center at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh wants people to know, “For the most part, studies have demonstrated that nasal irrigation is an efficacious means of treatment for colds, allergies, and sinus infections.”

It’s all about proper use. The FDA notes improper use of neti pots can increase a person’s risk of infection. Another thing to know is that long-term use may lead to higher incidence of sinus infections since the lining of the nostrils can be stripped away.

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