If cold-weather months do a number on your nasal passages, you’re not alone. From cold and flu to allergies to dry air, it’s no wonder that so many people spend their winters stuffed up or sniffling.
It’s also no wonder that interest in neti pots—small, simple devices used for nasal irrigation—peak around this time of year. “Patients ask me about these all the time, because they want something to treat their symptoms that’s not medication,” says Lyndsay Leigh Madden, DO, assistant professor of otolaryngology at Wake Forest School of Medicine.
Using a neti pot can seem a little scary; after all, you are pouring water directly into your nose. Plus, you may have read articles linking neti pots to very rare cases of deadly infections. So before you give one a try, here’s what you should know.
What is a neti pot?
“A neti pot is a nasal irrigation device that looks like a cross between a small teapot and Aladdin’s lamp,” says Dr. Madden. “It’s used to clean the nasal passages and to remove crusting that can occur from environmental or indoor air dryness.”
Neti pots are sold over the counter at pharmacies and health stores, as well as online at retailers like Walmart, Target, CVS, Walgreens, and Amazon. They come in different sizes and shapes and can be made of plastic, ceramic, or glass.
Are neti pots safe?
Dr. Madden is happy to recommend neti pots to most of her patients and says that they are generally safe when used as directed. “The most important thing to do is to read the instructions that come with the package,” she says.
Neti pots require the use of sterile water—either water that’s been boiled for three to five minutes and then cooled back down, or distilled water that’s purchased in a bottle. “Even when tap water is safe for drinking, it may still contain bacteria or other contaminants that can be harmful to the nasal passages,” says Dr. Madden.
In fact, the few deaths linked to neti pot use have been attributed to the use of tap water that contained an amoeba called Naegleria fowleri. This amoeba is safe to drink because stomach acid kills it—but if it gets up a person’s nose, it can travel to the brain and cause a deadly infection.
Dr. Madden says it’s also important to keep your neti pot clean and dry when it’s not in use and to not store anything in it that could contaminate it. And it’s always important to check with your primary care physician or ear, nose, and throat specialist before starting any type of new treatment, pharmaceutical or not. “There are a few cases–specific surgeries or specific conditions–in which we wouldn’t recommend this,” she says.
How do you use a neti pot?
“Most people can get the hang of using a neti pot fairly quickly,” says Dr. Madden, even though it can be awkward and intimidating at first. After you fill the pot, tilt your head over a sink and gently pour the solution into whichever nostril is on top. “Leave your mouth open, so you’ll be able to breathe through your mouth, and the solution will go in one nostril and out the other.”
After you’ve successfully irrigated one nostril, blow your nose to remove any remaining liquid. Then, repeat on the other side.
There are no official guidelines for how often people should use a neti pot, says Dr. Madden, but she recommends that people with a respiratory illness or allergies use it four or five times throughout the day. “Once your illness is over, just for maintenance or general nasal cleanliness, you can use it two to three times per week,” she adds.
If you experience side effects like nasal irritation, stinging, or nosebleeds, it’s a good idea to avoid nasal irrigation and talk to your doctor, instead.
How to choose a neti pot
Most simple neti pots range in price from $10 to $30, while more complex nasal irrigation systems can cost over $100. Dr. Madden doesn’t recommend one brand or one material over another, instead saying that “patients just need to find the device that works for them and make sure that they’re keeping it clean.”
Here are a few of the highest-rated neti pots on Amazon you might want to try to clean your nasal passages and feel better fast.
• Baraka Ceramic Neti Pot ($25, amazon.com)
• ComfyPot Ergonomic Ceramic Neti Pot ($18, amazon.com)
• HailiCare Nasal Wash Pot ($14, amazon.com)
• NoseBuddy Neti Pot ($22, amazon.com)
• Rhino Horn Premium Neti Pot Nasal Cleaner ($17, amazon.com)
Plus, you can add distilled water to your cart, too:
• CPAP H20 Premium Distilled Water ($27 for 12 20-oz. bottles, amazon.com)
• Deer Park Distilled Water ($25 for 6 gallons, amazon.com)
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