Neti pots are small, teapot-like devices that can be helpful in clearing out the sinuses. However, a person needs to use them correctly to avoid health issues such as bacterial sinus infections.

A neti pot.Share on Pinterest
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Over the last 10 years, neti pots have become highly popular with people who have sinus problems. They are also used for relieving symptoms of a cold and various allergies.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says neti pots do not pose a problem on their own.

However, it also warns that if people do not use neti pots correctly, they run the risk of developing serious infections, even potentially fatal ones.

Fast facts on neti pots

  • Neti pots can relieve the symptoms of rhinosinusitis if used properly.
  • The earliest record of nasal irrigation comes from the ancient practice of Ayurveda.
  • A person must correctly clean their neti pots before and after each use.
  • A person should never share a neti pot with someone else.
  • A person who has questions on how to use their neti pot should speak with a doctor or pharmacist.

A female using a neti pot.Share on Pinterest
To safely use a neti pot, mix warm, sterile water with pure salt in the pot before starting. Place the spout in the nostril on top while tilting the head slightly to one side. Let the saline solution drain through the bottom nostril.
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The neti pot is a type of saline nasal irrigation (SNI) treatment. The user fills a neti pot with a saltwater solution, tilts their head forward, and pours the solution into one nostril.

The liquid goes into one nostril and out of the other one. The solution is available as an over-the-counter (OTC) treatment at most drugstores. A person can also make a saline irrigation solution at home using table salt.

With its roots in Indian Ayurvedic medicine practices, nasal irrigation and possible treatments for administering were first introduced to Western medicine by The Lancet journal in 1902. Since then, research has shown that SNI is an effective way to reduce congestion due to a variety of causes, and this includes using net pots

The FDA, however, warns that the incorrect use of neti pots and other devices for rinsing out the sinuses, including squeeze bottles, battery-operated pulsed water devices, and bulb syringes, have been linked to a higher risk of infection.

The FDA says it is informing doctors, other healthcare professionals, device makers, and users about safe practices when using these devices.

The danger in using neti pots lies primarily in the use of tap water in order to rinse the sinuses. Tap water generally has small amounts of bacteria, protozoa, and other microorganisms, including amebae.

These are fine to swallow because stomach acid kills them, but they should not go into the nasal passages. If they do, they can remain alive and eventually cause serious infections. In addition, if a person does not clean their neti pot properly after use, some bacteria can remain and infect them later.

Some people develop meningitis from water in their neti pot containing things such as Naegleria fowleri (N. fowleri or brain-eating amoeba) and the bacteria streptococcus pneumonia. Contamination with N. fowleri, which more often happens while swimming, can lead to primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM. This is almost always fatal.

According to the FDA, some makers of neti pots may provide misleading and contradictory data. Some have no guidelines at all. Follow the following guidelines to safely use a neti pot.

Water safety

The first step is to make sure to use only sterilized water. A person can use:

  • distilled water or sterile purchased in a store (with a clearly indicating label)
  • Water boiled for at least a minute and then cooled. At elevations above 6,500 feet, a person will need to boil for at least 3 minutes.
  • water filtered through NSF 53 or NSF 58 filter or another filter labeled with “absolute pore size of 1 micron or smaller.”

Steps

Next, follow these instructions:

  1. Pour the water into the neti pot and add the solution
  2. Lean forward over the sink at a 45-degree angle and tilt your head to a 45-degree angle
  3. Insert the spout into the upper nostril and make sure it seals the nostril comfortably
  4. Raise the handle and allow the solution to flow through and come out through the other nostril
  5. Use about half of the water on one side. When done, switch to the other side and finish the water. It should take the water 1-2 minutes to flow through each nostril.
  6. Repeat these steps until sinus symptoms resolve, such as in the case of a cold. In case of allergies, a person may need to do it seasonally or longer.

Here is a video demonstrating how to safely use a neti pot.

In between uses, it is very important to follow the following guidelines:

  • Clean the neti pot after each use, paying particular attention to the region of the neti pot at which the spout connects to the pot. Salts can build up in this part of the device. Using tap water for cleaning should be safe as long as a person also uses soap and cleans with hot water.
  • Do not share a neti pot with anyone else to avoid passing lingering bacteria to you or another person.
  • Similarly to toothbrushes, if the neti pot is made of plastic, a person should replace it every few months.

The following are answers to additional questions about the safe use of neti pots.

Does a neti pot actually work?

Research shows that high-volume nasal irrigation devices like neti pots can effectively relieve congestion from rhinosinusitis.

Should you use warm or cold water in a neti pot?

A person will be most comfortable using water that is at room temperature. Hot water can burn the sinuses. On the other hand, the nasal solution might not dissolve as well in water that is too cold.

Can children use a neti pot?

After the age of 2 years, children with nasal allergies may benefit from using nasal-rinsing devices only when recommended by a doctor.

Neti pots are a type of nasal irrigation device. They can help clear the sinuses in cases of allergies or sinusitis.

However, it is very important to use sterilized water and follow the correct steps. If not, a person risks contracting a bacteria or amoeba that can reach the brain and cause life threatening illnesses.

If the instructions on a neti pot are not clear, individuals should check how to use it with a pharmacist or doctor. The potential consequences are not worth the risk.