We’ve probably all used them at some point in our lives, or at least had someone swear by their curative properties. I’m talking about sinus cleansers known as neti pots. These long-spouted tea pots, when placed directly into an individual’s nostril, send a saline solution through the sinus cavities as a means to ease allergies, cold symptoms, and offset the effects of dry air on a person’s nasal passages. However, a report from the Food and Drug Administration calls into question the safety of such devices under certain sets of circumstances, circumstances which we will now analyze.
At issue is the fact that neti pots and other devices like squeeze bottles, bulb syringes, and pulsed water devices can potentially contribute to a user sustaining a sinus infection. It’s not that these items are necessarily unsafe when used as directed, but if proper cleaning isn’t maintained, a danger presents itself. Using an inappropriate water source and not using the device correctly can also increase the risk.
First, let’s look at proper maintenance of neti pots. To ensure safety, the user should themselves wash and dry their hands sufficiently so as to remove bacteria. Then, the device should be given a good once-over to guarantee that it is clean and dry. After using the item, it should be cleaned not with tap water (unless boiled or cooled) but with sterile or distilled water. For drying, you basically have two choices: letting it air dry or taking a paper towel to the interior of the pot.
Perhaps the biggest danger comes from incorrect water being used in the neti pots. Sterile and distilled water is acceptable. You can likely buy sterile and distilled water in your local grocer, but boiling or cooling regular tap water should also do the trick. Water that has been filtered through a device with a pore size equal or lesser than 1 micron is also acceptable. The one thing to steer clear of is straight tap water, despite what the manufacturers’ directions may say. Tap water that is typically safe for drinking is not necessarily safe for the neti pot procedure. Stomach acid kills certain protozoa and bacteria that might be contained within tap water, but since the water in this case won’t be going to your stomach, a threat might exist.
When it comes to actually using the pot, make sure to add the saline solution. That way, there’s no burning or irritation in the nasal membranes. Tilt your head sideways and stick the spout into the higher nostril, breathing through your mouth all the while. Clear out your nostrils and repeat the other way.
In 2011, a tap water contamination may have led two people using neti pots in Louisiana to die. Don’t take a risk. If you use a neti pot and experience bleeding, headaches, or a fever, speak with a medical professional.