Many sinus sufferers are turning to the neti pot to get relief from the pressure and congestion caused by allergies, colds or the flu. While many doctors and healthcare providers endorse this treatment, they also warn about the risk of infection if they aren’t used the right way.
Found at most drugstores and online health stores for less than $20, neti pots look like small teapots, with a longer spout. Users fill the pot with a saline (salt-based) solution, and put the spout into each nostril to clear nasal passages.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tap water contains bacteria that are safe to drink because stomach acid kills them; however, if these “bugs” get into sinus passages, they can cause serious infections. Health officials believe that, in 2011, two neti pot users in Louisiana died in after being infected by contaminated tap water.
How can you protect yourself, but still use a neti pot to clear your sinuses? Remember these 3 things:
- Don’t use tap water. Use distilled, bottled, filtered or boiled water at room temperature (never cold).
- After each use, clean your neti pot thoroughly with antibacterial soap and hot water (preferably treated, see tip No. 1) and let it dry completely. If you use it often, replace it every few months, and never share it with someone else.
- Don’t rely on the directions provided with your neti pot. Ask your doctor or pharmacist how to properly flush your sinuses and care for your pot, or refer to instructions from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In general, using a neti pot involves these steps:
- Fill the pot with the solution as recommended by your doctor or healthcare provider.
- Leaning over a sink, tilt your head sideways at an angle. Keep your forehead and chin level to keep the liquid from flowing into your mouth.
- Insert the spout into your upper nostril so that the liquid drains through the lower nostril. (Breathe through your mouth.)
- Clear your nostrils, then repeat on the other side.