Neti Pots Can Bring Relief but Also Serious Sinus Infections if Not Used and Cleaned Properly

The teapot-shaped devices have become a fixture in many homes, but they may be doing more harm than good

To Rinse or Not to Rinse: Is It Safe to Use Neti Pots to Rinse Your Sinuses?
Image: Pixabay
January 11, 2019

Whether it's the dry winter air that makes your sinuses irritated or the seasonal allergies that wreak havoc on your breathing, nasal irrigation can bring soothing relief. Among the popular devices on the market is the neti pot, which looks like a tea pot and allows water to flow through and rinse your sinuses. But these devices, when not used properly, can cause some nasty infections.

Safe and Effective When Used Properly

The device can treat congested sinuses, colds, and allergies with a saline (saltwater) solution. They can also moisten nasal passages dried out by dry indoor air, especially during winter months. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), these devices are safe and effective when used and cleaned properly.

Tap Water can cause deadly infections

It is not safe to use plain tap water as a nasal rinse because it has not been adequately filtered or treated. Contrary to popular belief, tap water is not sterile. It contains low levels of organisms, such as bacteria, that are safe to swallow. But these organisms, which are killed in the stomach, stay alive and thrive in the moist nasal passages. When these bacteria thrive, you get sick. Even worse, some of these infections can get serious very quickly, potentially leading to death.

Safe Water is essential

To safely use the device, use only distilled, sterile or previously boiled water in the device. Distilled or sterile water can be purchased in stores and includes the words "sterile" or "distilled." You can use tap water that has been boiled for between three and five minutes and then cooled until lukewarm. Plain water can irritate the passageways, so make sure you use water that has the correct saline (salt) content.

Follow the instructions

When using a neti pot or any other nasal irrigation system, make sure that you follow the instructions. The instructions are written to allow you to use the device as safely as possible. While no device is without risks, you can keep your risks low by following the instructions.

Consult a doctor

If your immune system is not working properly or if you have any other concerns, discuss it with your doctor before you use any kind of nasal irrigation system. There may be other alternatives available. Regardless of age, talk to a healthcare provider to make sure that nasal rinsing will be safe and effective for you.

If symptoms do not get better or get worse after using the device, go to your healthcare provider. This is especially important if you have a fever, nosebleeds, or headaches while or after using the device.

Nasal Rinsing Devices and Children

Make sure the device fits the age of the user. Some kids get diagnosed with nasal allergies at as young an age as two, and these children could use these devices at that time if recommended by a pediatrician. However, very young children might not tolerate the process.

Keeping Clean

As with any procedure, make sure to keep everything clean and dry. This includes thoroughly washing your hands, face, the device and any other surfaces you may contact during the procedure. Clean and sterile water is worthless if your device is full of bacteria.

The instructions should have recommendations for keeping the device clean. Plastic neti pots may be easier to clean versus porcelain, which may have porous surfaces. If you think your neti pot may be contaminated, you may be able to clean it using white distilled vinegar or 70 percent isopropyl alcohol. Make sure to rinse the device with distilled (not tap) water below 120 degrees and allow it to dry thoroughly.

Some online sources suggest running the device through a dishwasher that has a sanitary cycle, but this may not kill all harmful bacteria. Even though the water and heat will be hot enough to kill most bacteria, it may not kill all bacteria. Exercise caution if you decide to do this.

Alternatives to neti pots

The thought of a neti pot as a long-term investment can be attractive. After all, once you buy it you only need to create a saline rinse. Other rinses, such as saline sprays you can purchase to spray your sinuses, can cost more over time. But these alternatives, while they cost more over time, might be a safer and easier option. After all, there is very minimal, if any, cleaning required and no mixtures to create. You simply pop off the cap, aim and then spray. These sprays may be a safer and easier option.