With allergies and colds causing runny noses, nasal congestion, and sinus pressure, you may think your answer is to use a neti pot. Nasal irrigation isn't new, but is it safe? We asked allergist Dr. Kathleen Dass, MD, from the Michigan Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Center, and here's everything you need to know about using a neti pot.
What Is a Neti Pot and How Do You Use It?
A neti pot looks like a small teapot with a handle at one end and a spout at the other. They can be made of ceramic or plastic, and they "are a natural, alternative, and safe way to clear out the mucus" from your nose and sinuses, explained Dr. Dass, whether you have a cold, allergies, or a sinus infection. "Neti pots help remove crusting, thin, or thick secretions and can help make medications more effective."
Just fill the neti pot with a solution of warm or room-temperature saltwater (whatever temperature you prefer), place the spout in one nostril, lean over your sink and tilt your other nostril down toward the drain, and allow the warm saltwater to drip out your open nostril, flushing out your nasal passages.
Dr. Dass said pharmacies also sell sinus rinse bottles (pictured below), so instead of pouring in the saltwater solution, you squeeze the bottle. Some of her patients prefer this method because they find it easier and more effective to use. Both achieve the same goal, so you can try them both to see which works best for you.
How Do You Make the Saltwater Solution?
Most neti pots or sinus rinses will come with their own prepackaged salt packets, so use that and follow the directions on the package for how to mix up your saltwater solution. "If you prefer to make your own mixture, you can add one-quarter teaspoon of noniodized salt to eight ounces of distilled, sterile, or bottled water," Dr. Dass recommended. You can also use boiled water; let the water boil for three to five minutes, then cool until it's lukewarm, room temperature, or warm (whatever your preference). If it's too hot, it could burn the inside of your nasal passage.
Who Can Benefit From Using a Neti Pot?
Anyone suffering from a stuffy or runny nose due to a cold or allergies can benefit from using a neti pot. "The rinses can provide symptomatic relief by allowing you to clear your mucus, moving it out of your sinuses and out your nose," Dr. Dass explained.
Is It Safe to Use a Neti Pot?
There is very little risk to using nasal irrigation, as long as you use it correctly, Dr. Dass explained. If you have pressure in your ears, you should avoid sinus rinses and neti pots. "The eustachian tube is what connects the middle ear to the nose and throat. If your allergies are severe or you have a sinus infection, it can cause the ears to be blocked with mucus or feel like there is pressure in the ears," Dr. Dass said. "If you use a neti pot when your ears feel pressured, then it can make the pressure buildup feel worse, lead to tinnitus (ringing of the ears), or even an ear infection."
Wait, Didn't Someone Die Using a Neti Pot?
The other risk involves the type of water you use. "In 2018, there was a widely publicized case of a woman dying in Seattle from a brain-eating amoeba called Balamuthia mandrillaris using tap water for her neti pot," Dr. Dass said. "These cases are very rare and preventable if you use distilled, sterile, or bottled water."
"You should also avoid using a neti pot if you have recently had any trauma or surgery to your nose unless your physician recommends it," Dr. Dass said.
How Often Is It Safe to Use a Neti Pot?
"You can use the rinses one to two times per day whether you are having symptoms or not, especially because the neti pot can be used as a preventive measure," Dr. Dass said. "If you have a sinus infection, I would recommend using it twice daily." If you use a saltwater rinse in conjunction with a nasal spray, you should use the rinse first, then the spray, she said.
"I recommend patients wash their neti pot after every use, as recommended by the CDC," Dr. Dass said. You can wash them by hand, or many are dishwasher-safe.