Neti pots could sicken sinuses

By Shayna Brouker • Published: December 13th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Now that cold season is in full swing, you might be trying every remedy out there to get rid of annoying sniffles, coughs, sneezes and sores. You might have even heard of neti pots, the ancient yet futuristic-looking tea kettles that are used to flush the nasal passages free of congestion and nastiness.

They’ve gotten a lot of attention for being a seemingly safe, drug-free way to clear the sinuses. Rinsing the nose with saline solution helps thin mucus, and it usually only takes three rinses a week for symptoms to subside. But the trouble starts when practitioners use tap water, which can harbor harmful organisms called mycobacteria. Mycobacteria is typically found in the soil, air and water, not noses, but when they get washed deep into the nasal cavity they’ve got a shot to grow.

A recent study published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases found a link between neti pot use and nasal infections. The researchers reviewed 10 years of patient records to find people diagnosed with chronic sinus infections. Thirty-three, or about one percent of all the patients, turned up positive for mycobacteria. Twenty-six of them said they used tap water to rinse their noses.

Almost all of them had severe enough symptoms to require surgery, namely congestion, runny nose, headaches, and loss of smell or taste. To avoid this problem altogether, doctors recommend using distilled or sterile water. Saline solution is a good solution, or you can boil tap water for five minutes, then let it cool. This sterilized water is safe to use for 24 hours if stored in a clean container.

And be sure to clean the neti pot frequently since 25 percent will become contaminated after one week, and 100 percent pick up germs after a month. Wash the neti pot by hand or run it through the dishwasher if safe to do so. Dry the pot completely afterward, rinse and repeat.