When Neti Pots Attack
Longtime readers will recall that I am a fan of the neti pot – when used safely and responsibly, this ancient irrigation device can be a nice adjunct to surgery and an easy way to loosen the mucus in your sinuses. Like all home remedies, however, this one comes with a caveat: use responsibly.
Neti pots work because they allow warm water direct access to the mucus in your sinus cavities, but that access can also be a double-edged sword. If the water you are using to irrigate your sinuses isn’t sterile, you could run the real risk of introducing dangerous microbial invaders exactly where they are most likely to thrive. The result can be a serious infection, which in extreme cases could even turn deadly.
This story was in the news over the last week: two people in Louisiana who have succumbed to a virulent water-borne pathogen known as Naegleria fowleri, which was present in their tap water before using the neti pot. As a local epidemiologist put it:
“If you are irrigating, flushing, or rinsing your sinuses, for example, by using a neti pot, use distilled, sterile or previously boiled water to make up the irrigation solution,” said Louisiana State Epidemiologist, Dr. Raoult Ratard. “Tap water is safe for drinking, but not for irrigating your nose.” It’s also important to rinse the irrigation device after each use and leave open to air dry.
And that’s the point: your neti pot is only as safe as the liquid that you use to fill it. If your water supply is unsafe or suspect, it is essential to take proper precautions. Neti pots are not inherently dangerous, but dirty water is. When in doubt, boil, sterilize, or use distilled water from the store to ensure your neti pot flushes away old mucus without adding any new invaders.