Neti pots are a popular home remedy for flushing the nose and clearing out mucus, bacteria, dust, pollen and allergens. In lieu of medications with side effects, neti pots can provide effective relief of nasal congestion and make breathing easier.
How Neti Pots Work
Neti pots work by using a saline solution to rinse out and moisten nasal passages, which helps to alleviate sinus pressure, colds, and allergies. Although neti pots can be highly effective, improper use can increase your risk of a serious infection. Common misuses include using unsafe water, failing to properly clean the neti pot, and failing to follow manufacturers instructions.
Types of Unsafe Water
Using tap water in a neti pot is a big no-no because it is not adequately filtered or treated. Tap water is typically filtered or treated to reduce levels of organisms to levels that are safe to ingest. What you drink doesn’t have to be as clean as what goes into your nose because what you drink is exposed to stomach acid. Stomach acid is effective in killing low levels of bacteria, protozoa, and amoebas but your nose isn’t similarly protected. If these organisms are sprayed or inhaled through your nose, they may stay alive and cause infection.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some serious infections such as primary meningoencephalitis (PAM) may be contracted through neti pot use and may even cause death. PAM occurs when the ameba Naegleria fowleri infects the nose and travels to the brain, causing a severe infection that is usually fatal.
Using Safe Water
When using a neti pot the easiest way to avoid infection is to do one of the following:
- Use water that has been boiled for 1 minute and left to cool (at elevations above 6,500 feet, boil for 3 minutes).
- Purchase and use water that is labeled “distilled” or “sterile”.
- Purchase and use a commercial filter designed to remove harmful organisms (filter label may read “NSF 53” or “NSF 58” or “absolute pore size of 1 micron or smaller”).
- Under laboratory conditions it is also possible to disinfect your water with proper levels of chlorine, but most people will find the options above to be more convenient.
Cleaning and Using Your Neti Pot
- Wash and dry the neti pot. It is important that the neti pot be clean and completely dry before use.
- Wash and dry your hands.
- Prepare the saline rinse, either with a rinse supplied with the neti pot or one you make yourself using safe water as described above.
- Follow the manufacturer’s directions for use, which may involve tilting your head over a sink or bowl, inserting the neti pot spout into your upper nostril, and pouring saline into your upper nostril so that it flows through your lower nostril.
Who Shouldn’t Use a Neti Pot
- Anyone planning to use a neti pot should consult a health care provider first, especially if you have a compromised immune system.
- Children as young as 2 years old may use a neti pot, but parents should consult with a pediatrician first.
- Finally, anyone that experiences a worsening of symptoms, headache, fever or nosebleed while using a neti pot should contact a doctor.
- Cope JR, Ratard RC, Hill VR, Sokol T, Causey JJ, Yoder JS, Mirani G, Mull B, Mukerjee KA, Narayanan J, Doucet M, Qvarstrom Y, Poole CN, Akingbola OA, Ritter JM, Xiong Z, da Silva A, Roellig D, Van Dyke R, Stern H, Xiao L, Beach MJ. The first association of a primary amebic meningoencephalitis death with culturable Naegleria fowleriin tap water from a U.S. treated public drinking water system. Clin. Infect. Dis. 2015;DOI: 10.1093/cid/civ017.
- Yoder JS, Straif-Bourgeois S, Roy SL, Moore TA, Visvesvara GS, Ratard RC, Hill V, Wilson JD, Linscott AJ, Crager R, Kozak NA, Sriram R, Narayanan J, Mull B, Kahler AM, Schneeberger C, da Silva AJ, Beach MJ. Deaths from Naegleria fowleriassociated with sinus irrigation with tap water: a review of the changing epidemiology of primary amebic meningoencephalitis. Clin. Infect Dis. 2012;1-7.
- Naegleria fowleri – Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM) – Amebic Encephalitis, Sinus Rinsing & Neti Pots, https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/naegleria/sinus-rinsing.html, accessed March 3, 2017.
- Is Rinsing Your Sinuses With Neti Pots Safe? https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm316375.htm, accessed March 3, 2017.