Health officials recommend using distilled or cooled down boiled water in neti pots.
(Photo: Leslie Smith Jr., USA TODAY)
Yagana Shah, USA TODAY
With fall allergy season still upon us, sinus sufferers may find themselves reaching for their neti pots in search of sinus relief. But saline-irrigation devices could do more harm than good if used incorrectly.
Some neti pots look a little like Aladdin's lamp and allow users to pour a saline solution into their sinuses for relief. Other saline-irrigation devices are simple plastic bottles that let users squeeze solution into their sinuses.
Two deaths were reported in 2011, after neti pot users used contaminated tap water for the rinsing solution and became infected with Naegleria fowleri. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Naegleria fowleri, is an amoeba that causes primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, an infection that destroys brain tissue and causes swelling of the brain.
The amoeba is typically found in soil, warm freshwater and hot springs and occasionally in improperly chlorinated pools or even tap water. But drinking Naegleria-contaminated water does not lead to infection.
"The issue isn't the device. It's the water that is put in it," says Scott Stringer, professor and chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology and Communicative Sciences at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. As manufacturers of neti pots and other saline irrigation devices warn, Stringer says, it's critical that only distilled, microfiltered or cooled down boiled water are used in preparing the rinsing solution.
In addition to taking care to use distilled or cooled down boiled water, Stringer says, it's also good practice to clean neti pots thoroughly between uses. Manufacturer recommendations may vary by device, but maintenance typically involves cleaning the bottle with soap and water to prevent the growth of bacteria. In a consumer update, the Food and Drug Administration recommends washing rinsing devices with distilled, sterile or boiled and cooled tap water. Devices can be air dried or wiped with a paper towel.
The FDA also recommends talking to a health care provider to determine if saline-irrigation devices will be effective or safe to use on a person-by-person basis.
Neti pots have been used for centuries to clean out nasal passages, reduce congestion and relieve sinus headaches. Garnering attention in recent years, neti pots have become increasingly popular and a staple for many loyal users during allergy season.
"Saline irrigation helps improve symptoms of sinusitis or allergies," Stringer says. Irrigation devices can help clear out excess mucus and as a result, decrease the likelihood or severity of sinusitis, viral infections and allergies. "While they don't cure diseases, they make them all heal better and shorten the duration of symptoms," Stringer says.