Yes, using a neti pot might look a little ridiculous, but these teapot-looking contraptions actually do wonders for nasal congestion. Some people swear by this, especially since they get relief so quickly without using medication.
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But there’s more to these seemingly simple device than just gently pouring water on your way to a cleaner, less congested life. It’s important to know how to use one correctly and safely to prevent any bigger issues than you started with.
Here’s how you can start reaping the benefits of safe neti pot use and ear, nose and throat specialist Raj Sindwani, MD gives us some tips.
Benefits of using a neti pot
The big advantage of using a neti pot is that you can clean out your nasal page, improving your breathing and congestion without having to resort to over-the-counter medicines. This is particularly useful for those trying to avoid the side-effects that those OTC cold remedies carry (drowsiness or stimulants) as well as those who might not react well to the ingredients in them.
How a neti pot works
Neti pots push a flow of a saline solution through your nasal passages, clearing out built up mucus and allergens trapped inside your nasal passage. Why saline instead of just water? It helps prevent irritation of your nasal passage.
For your standard teapot-shaped neti pot, the tool works pretty simply. Place the tip of the spout inside one nostril, creating a seal and tilting the pot and your head forward, sending the saline solution into your nasal passage. Gravity does the rest, carrying the solution through your nasal cavity and out your other nostril.
The saline solution
While you can create your own at-home saline solution, packets that come with your neti pot (as well as separately sold packets) are great because the offer the perfect amount of salt. Too little or too much salt may cause irritation in your nasal passage.
As for the water that you use for the saline solution, that’s part of three big ways that Dr. Sindwani recommends to ensure safe use of the neti pot.
1. Don’t use tap water
Use distilled, filtered, bottled or boiled water at room temperature — never tap water. Tap water may not have been filtered or treated like distilled or bottled has and may cause infections.
“There are potential side effects to nasal irrigation,” says Dr. Sindwani. “Always use a clean irrigation device and a clean water source.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend taking at least one of the following actions to lower your risk for infection:
Boil: Use water that has been previously boiled for one minute and left to cool. At elevations above 6,500 feet, boil for three minutes.
Filter: Use a filter designed to remove some water-loving germs. The label may read “NSF 53” or “NSF 58.” Filter labels that read “absolute pore size of 1 micron or smaller” are also effective.
Buy: Use water with a label specifying that it contains distilled or sterile water.
Disinfect: Chlorine bleach used at the right level and time will work as a disinfectant.
2. Clean your neti pot thoroughly
Besides the water you use, it’s also important to disinfect and clean your neti pot thoroughly to avoid infections. Rinse the irrigation device after each use with safe water and leave the device open to air dry completely. During the coronavirus pandemic, it’s recommended that you clean your neti pot after every single use.
“I also recommend using hot water and antibacterial soap to clean your neti pot every day,” says Dr. Sindwani.
Don’t forget to periodically replace your neti pot too. Get a new one every few months, especially if you use it regularly. If your child’s pediatrician recommends your child use one, have a separate one just for them.
3. Don’t use cold solutions
You should never use cold solution in your nasal passages — especially if you’re irrigating your nasal passages after sinus surgery.
“Some of the solutions we prescribe after sinus surgery must be kept in the refrigerator,” says Dr. Sindwani. “You need to allow the solution to come to room temperature before using them.”
If you just had sinus surgery and you used a cold solution, you could develop bony growths in your nasal passages called paranasal sinus exostoses (PSE). Dr. Sindwani and his research team have discovered that these growths can develop in the sinuses of people who have undergone surgery for chronic rhinosinusitis, or inflammation in the lining of the sinuses.
“This is related to the solution being cold, not necessarily what is in the solution,” says Dr. Sindwani. “These growths can develop when the cold solution comes into contact with the surgically opened sinus cavities.”
PSE look like small polyps or cysts, but they are actually bone. They’ve only been found in the sinuses after surgery, but it’s still important to use fluids at room temperature.
“There are newer medications in development that don’t require refrigeration,” says Dr. Sindwani. “This will make nasal irrigation easier and safer.”
Different kinds of neti pots
As the use of neti pots grew over the years, so did the different nasal care tools that offered similar treatment in slightly different forms.
Among the most popular are the squeeze bottle design. While this option gives users a more firm flow of the solution through their nasal passage, you don’t want to squeeze too hard or you’ll risk causing a big time mess.
There’s also an “automatic” version which uses suction to regulate the flow of water through the nasal passage. These automated neti pots are easier to use and create less of a mess but they can be pretty darn expensive and require a bit more upkeep for safe cleanliness.