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Native Natural Remedies » Cold Flu & Respiratory, General Health » Is a Neti Pot Dangerous?

Is a Neti Pot Dangerous?

The popularity of the neti pot for nasal irrigation has surged in recent years. This simple, non-prescription treatment for nasal congestion provides relief from symptoms of allergies, sinus problems and the common cold. A neti pot resembles a small teapot with a special long spout. They are often made of a stainless steel or ceramic material, rather than plastic, to improve bacterial resistance. A body-temperature, salt-water solution is placed into one nostril. The wash flows through and comes out the other nostril, removing mucus and debris with it. Despite the fact that irrigating with water represents the most natural treatment available, there have still been infections and deaths associated with neti pot use. Because of the unusual and unexpected nature of the fatalities, they have received a fair amount of media coverage.

In 2011, two deaths were attributed to nasal irrigation via neti pots. In these cases, both from the southeastern region of the United States, death resulted from the so-called “brain-eating amoeba.” The organism, Naegleria fowleri, causes swelling and destruction of the brain resulting in death 98 percent of the time. This organism lives in warm, fresh water and enters the body through the nose, but is not dangerous if swallowed. Entry through the nasal cavities allows the organism to access the brain and causes a condition called “primary amoebic encephalitis.” In the neti pot cases, N. fowleri was found in the tap water used for nasal irrigation. Primary amoebic encephalitis—PAM—causes symptoms that may be mistaken for meningitis including headache, fever, disorientation, seizures and coma. Symptoms appear within a few days of exposure and death almost always occurs within two weeks.

It is also possible to contract ear infections from contaminated water or incorrect use of a neti pot. Instructions should be followed for preparation of the saline solution and positioning for the washes. Water used for irrigation of nasal passages should be sterile or distilled. Boiling and then cooling tap water should kill infectious organisms, as well. The neti pot must be carefully cleaned and air-dried after each use to prevent bacterial growth. Overuse of nasal irrigation can damage the protective structures in the nose and sinuses and lead to increased infections.

Judicious use and simple safety precautions should prevent infectious complications caused by bacterial or amoebic agents from the neti pot. Nasal saline irrigation is recommended by over 85 percent of family medicine doctors, according to the November 2009 issue of “American Family Physician.” The wash technique with the neti pot provides effective and inexpensive relief and should be safe if these safety measures are taken.

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