Is Rinsing Your Sinuses with a Neti Pot Safe?

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Young female looking at mirror while using neti pot. Horizontal shot.

It’s one of the most acceptable forms of alternative medicine. And for those of us who suffer from allergies and don’t want to take strong allergy medications, neti pots are a savior. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration just released a consumer update that warns neti pot advocates of certain dangers. Not to worry, if you’re a neti pot fan or you’re considering giving it a try, here’s everything you need to know about safely rinsing your sinuses.

The Dangers of Rinsing Your Sinuses with a Neti Pot

According to the FDA, using a neti pot improperly can put you at risk of infection. Specifically, don’t rinse your sinuses with tap water because the water isn’t filtered enough to be introduced to your sensitive nasal passages. Protozoa, bacteria, and amoeba are of particular concern. Though the risk is small, infections can happen. The consumer update is motivated by a few deaths that resulted from a “brain eating” amoeba.

In 2011, it’s believed that two people died as a result of the amoeba known as Naegleria fowleri. Usually, amoebas like this are contracted from swimming in fresh water, but in these two cases, there had not been any exposure through swimming. Rather, in both cases neti pots had caused the water to get into the brain cavity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Naegleria fowleri also known as amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), is a brain infection that leads to the destruction of brain tissue.

Though rare, its symptoms are dramatic. CDC writes that “PAM starts about 5 days (range 1 to 9 days) after infection. The initial symptoms may include headache, fever, nausea, or vomiting. Later symptoms can include stiff neck, confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance, seizures, and hallucinations.”

How to Rinse Your Sinuses Safely with a Neti Pot

Luckily, this incredibly lethal, though exceedingly rare amoeba is easy to avoid, at least when it comes to your neti pot. These precautions can minimize your risk:

1. Don’t use tap water

As mentioned above, when using your neti pot, make sure you use sterile or distilled water. It’s often sold at your local health foods store. If you don’t have access to properly filtered water, boil your tap water and then let it cool for three to five minutes. Previously boiled water can be stored in a sealed container for up to 24 hours. If you have a special filter attached to your faucet that traps potentially infectious diseases like protozoa or bacteria, this can also be effective.

“Some tap water contains low levels of organisms, such as bacteria and protozoa, including amoebas, which may be safe to swallow because stomach acid kills them,” the release states. “But these ‘bugs’ can stay alive in nasal passages and cause potentially serious infections.”

2. Follow the proper instructions

When it comes to using a neti pot, make sure you follow the proper directions.

  • Make sure your hands are clean and make sure the neti pot itself is also clean.
  • Lean your head over the sink, tilting your head sideways.
  • Breathing through your mouth, insert the spout into the upper nostril, allowing the water to drain out of the lower nostril.
  • Clear the nostrils and repeat the process as needed.
  • If you have congested sinuses that don’t improve in a few weeks time, you may want to talk to your healthcare provider.

What About Children and Neti Pots?

For some children, using a neti pot starting from a young age can help clear up the respiratory system. Kids can be diagnosed with allergies starting at just two years old. But it’s always best to talk to your pediatrician before using a neti pot on your child. Additionally, make sure that you follow all of the safety instructions above. If your child’s symptoms worsen or he or she experiences nose bleeds, fever, or headache, make sure you talk to your doctor.

The Benefits of Using a Neti Pot

Don’t worry, you don’t have to stop using your neti pot, you just need to make sure you’re taking a few simple precautions, if you weren’t already. When it comes to using a neti pot, it’s best before symptoms begin. And there are significant benefits that should be noted:

  • It relieves nasal dryness. Though saline spray has been found effective at relieving nasal dryness when sprayed into the nose, a neti pot may be even more effective.

“There are various ways to deliver saline to the nose. 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,” says Eric A. Mann, MD, PhD, a doctor at FDA.

  • It gently removes nasal mucous without you having to take a decongestant, which can come with a host of side effects.
  • For those who suffer from an array of allergies, it can rinse pollen, mold, and other irritants that cause allergic reactions before they ever become a problem. That’s why it’s important to rinse your sinuses often, especially during allergy season.
  • It relieves sinus pressure, which can cause headaches and other forms of discomfort when the sinuses become blocked.
  • It keeps your head feeling clear and refreshed.  Allergies, along with the medications used to treat them, can leave you feeling foggy. Naturally keeping the sinuses clear has the opposite effect.

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