The habit of purposefully pouring water up your nose might seem like a strange one, but it's increasingly becoming a part of more people's routine.
As the use of neti pots to rinse out the sinuses has become more popular, concerns about the safety of these devices have also surfaced. However, experts say that with proper care and practices, these devices can be safe and helpful for irritated sinuses.
What's a Neti Pot?
Neti pots are small devices, often ceramic and teapot-shaped, that are filled with a saline (salt water) solution and held up to one nostril.
In an interview with dailyRx News, Tom Schnorr, RPh, CCN, owner of Apothecary Shop Pharmacy and Austin Compounding Pharmacy in Austin, TX, explained that the liquid goes in one nostril and out the other, clearing the sinuses of pollen and debris along the way.
"Our sinuses are coated with a thick mucus layer that our body creates to protect the tissue," Schnorr said. "... We are just literally washing it as if we were washing our hands, and we are pulling the mucus layer off — which has been trapping all the pollen — so our sinuses will make a fresh new layer each day, or twice a day."
A Neti How-To
Schnorr noted that many patients don't know how to use the neti pot at first, or they find it uncomfortable. He recommended bending over quite low — until the head is below the hips — and using the neti pot over a bathtub instead of over a sink, until the body adjusts and gets used to the process.
Another important part of keeping the process comfortable is making sure to breathe through the mouth when using a neti pot, noted the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Though the FDA reported that proper use of the devices is generally safe, it did highlight some cases of infections tied to neti pots.
Keeping Sinuses Safe
"There have been situations — very rare occasions — of people getting an amoeba infection or a bacterial infection from using tap water," Schnorr said.
According to the FDA, tap water can sometimes contain low levels of bacteria and other organisms that are safe to drink but may be dangerous when introduced straight into the nasal passages.
"Tap water is not the recommended item to be using," Schnorr said. "Please always choose bottled water or gallon jugs of distilled water from your grocery stores. It's much safer."
The FDA also recommended a number of other safety steps, including making sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions for individual devices and making sure the neti pot is cleaned properly.
"Wash the device with distilled, sterile or boiled and cooled tap water, and then dry the inside with a paper towel or let it air dry between uses," according to the FDA.
If used properly, neti pots can be helpful for patients with allergies or any kind of sinus infection and even help them cut down on the use of medications, Schnorr said.
The FDA recommends speaking to your health care provider before using a neti pot.