The Grapevine

Are Neti Pots Safe? How To Use Them Correctly

Among the cold weather-related illnesses and allergies peaking this season, many of us may have to cope with sinus infections. While medication and nasal decongestants provide some degree of relief, some people opt to use a neti pot.

Not heard of this before? Well, they have nothing to do with cannabis if that was one of your guesses. A neti pot looks similar to a teapot but performs a different function — nasal irrigation.

It involves a person tilting their head sideways and using the neti pot to pour salt water into one nostril, allowing it to drain out the other nostril. This is said to relieve sinus pressure and congestion by cleaning out the nasal passages. 

"There are various ways to deliver saline to the nose," said Eric A. Mann, M.D., Ph.D., a doctor at the Food and Drug Administration. "Nasal spray bottles deliver a fine mist and might be useful for moisturizing dry nasal passages. But irrigation devices are better at flushing the nose and clearing out mucus, allergens, and bacteria."

But as simple as it may seem, there are precautions that must be followed. Just take a look at a recently published case study where an unnamed 69-year-old woman rinsed her sinuses with tap water instead of sterile water while using a neti pot. It so happened, unfortunately, that the water contained a brain-eating amoeba known as Balamuthia mandrillaris.

The infection is quite rare, with a little over 100 cases being reported in the United States since 1974. However, chances of survival are only 10 percent once a person is infected. The woman in the case study, who went on to develop skin rashes and experience a seizure, eventually died after the amoeba infected her brain tissue.

So, if you plan on using a neti pot, remember to follow the safety tips. For one, even though tap water might be safe to drink, it is not safe to pour through your nose. 

"The reason that you can get brain infections by nasal irrigation, as opposed to swallowing tap water or bathing in tap water, is that the roof of the nose is one of the only parts of the human body where there’s a direct extension of the brain and central nervous system into the outside world," explained Dr. Ben Bleier, an associate professor of otolaryngology at Harvard Medical School.

Avoid using a cold solution as that may also lead to complications. Stick to using water that has been boiled and cooled to room temperature. In addition, you may use filters with a pore size of 1 micron or smaller.

Importantly, make sure you adequately clean the neti pot itself, taking extra care if you are using it regularly. The Cleveland Clinic also advises replacing your neti pot every few months to be on the safe side.