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Published February 10, 2013, 11:40 PM

'A bath for your nose': Neti pots provide sinus relief without much danger when used correctly

FARGO - Julie Larson has been using a neti pot daily for years. She heard the small receptacles, which look like tea pots or genie’s lamps, could provide balance to the nasal passages.

By: Tracy Frank, INFORUM

FARGO - Julie Larson has been using a neti pot daily for years.

She heard the small receptacles, which look like tea pots or genie’s lamps, could provide balance to the nasal passages.

“It clears things out of there, and that made sense to me,” said Larson, who works for Swanson Health Products in Fargo, which sells neti pots. “Why would I want mucous, dust or anything else in there when it doesn’t have to be and isn’t doing anything for me? It felt amazing, clean. I was completely hooked.”

Neti pots use a salt and water solution to flush out the nasal passages. The saline solution is slowly poured into one nostril, travels through the nasal cavity, and comes out the other nostril.

People use neti pots to provide relief from allergies, congestion, colds and other sinus problems. But the devices have gotten a bit of a bad reputation in recent years. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued warnings about using neti pots and all nasal rinsing devices safely.

Their safety came into question after two cases in 2011 of a deadly brain infection were linked to improper neti pot use in Louisiana.

The state health department linked the infections to tap water contaminated with an amoeba called Naegleria fowleri.

Still, doctors say the warnings should not discourage people from using the devices as long as they’re used properly.

Dr. Steven Osborne, a medical officer in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, says neti pots are generally safe and useful.

The key is in using the right water source in the pots and cleaning the devices properly.

Some tap water contains low levels of organisms that are safe to swallow because stomach acid kills them, but can cause serious infections in nasal passages, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So the FDA recommends using either distilled or sterile water, tap water that has been boiled for three to five minutes and then cooled, or water passed through a filter with an absolute pore size of 1 micron or smaller.

Neti pots should be washed with distilled, sterile, previously boiled and cooled, or filtered water and air dried or dried with a paper towel.

Neti pots have been around for centuries. Larson said they are part of the ancient Ayurvedic system of cleansing. Ayurveda focuses on balancing mind, body and soul. Neti pots are a tool for staying healthy, she said.

“People who use them a lot swear by them,” Larson said. “I personally feel like once someone gives them a real shot, as in tries it out for a couple of weeks, they would see it as a really positive, really easy lifestyle change.”

Dr. Susan Mathison, an independent physician who specializes in Otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat), head and neck surgery and facial plastic surgery at Catalyst Medical Center in Fargo, has patients use saline sinus rinses for three to four weeks following surgery and during other symptomatic episodes, she said.

She also recommends people use neti pots, bulb syringes or squirt bottles for nasal irrigation whenever they feel congested and after they have been in a dusty environment, she said.

Mathison used to recommend anyone with allergies or sinus issues irrigate their nasal passages daily, but now only recommends it when they have symptoms, she said.

“If you’re not having symptoms, your body’s working fine and you don’t need to intervene too much,” Mathison said.

Kids with chronic allergies and sinus problems can also use nasal irrigation, she said.

“We try to make it like a little game, like a little nose fountain,” Mathison said.

Many people believe regular use of a neti pot is more effective for nasal allergy and sinus symptoms than over-the-counter medications, according to Mayo Clinic.

Studies generally affirm the effectiveness of using of neti pots and other nasal irrigation devices.

The University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health Department of Family Medicine studied their use for nine years and found that nasal irrigation is an effective adjunctive therapy for chronic sinus symptoms and may also be effective therapy for the common cold, acute sinusitis, and allergic rhinitis.

A study published in 2009 by The Cochrane Collaboration, an international, non-profit organization that maintains health care reviews, showed that nasal irrigation relieves symptoms of nose and sinus complaints without significant side effects.

Using a neti pot can seem awkward at first. Larson said the first time she used one, she used tap water and it burned her nose – similar to accidentally snorting water in a swimming pool.

“Once you can learn how to relax, it feels like a bath for your nose and sinus area,” she said. “To use a neti pot feels good. It becomes a natural state. To not use a neti pot after you’ve gotten used to the feeling of clear sinuses feels terrible.”

Neti pots are available in pharmacies, health food stores and online, and usually cost between $10 and $20, according to WebMD. They are usually plastic or ceramic.

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Saline solution

Some neti pots come with a saline mix. You can also buy them prepackaged from pharmacies and health food stores.

Dr. Susan Mathison of Catalyst Medical Center provides clients with this nasal saline recipe:

  • Carefully clean and rinse a 1-quart glass jar. Fill the clean jar with tap water or bottled water. You do not have to boil the water.

  • Add 2 to 3 heaping teaspoons of pickling or canning salt. Do not use table salt, which has unwanted additives (Julie Larson of Swanson Health Products recommends using Swanson’s Himalayan Crystal Salt).

  • Add 1 rounded teaspoon of baking soda

  • Stir or shake before each use. Store at room temperature. Keeps for one week. After a week, discard any remaining mixture.

  • If the mixture seems too strong, use less salt. For children, start with a weaker salt mixture.

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