What Are Neti Pots and Do They Work?

How to avoid nasal irrigation risks
woman using nuti pot

Yes, using a neti pot might appear a little ridiculous, but these teapot-looking contraptions actually do wonders for nasal congestion. Some people swear by them, especially since they get relief so quickly without using medication. 

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But there’s more to these seemingly simple devices 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.

And, for what it’s worth, The World Health Organization reports that rinsing your nose with saline does not prevent COVID-19.

But here’s how you can start reaping the benefits of safe neti pot use. Ear, nose and throat specialist Raj Sindwani, MD gives us some tips.

What is a neti pot?

A neti pot is a device that pushes 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.

What are the types 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. There’s the standard tea pot version, from which this device gets its name. This version relies entirely on gravity to force the flow of the solution through your nasal passage.

Among the most popular types is the squeeze bottle design. While this option gives users a firmer 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.

Benefits of using a neti pot

There are several advantages to choosing a neti pot as your means of sinus treatment, including:

  • Fully rinses the nasal passage.
  • Removes backed-up mucus.
  • Limits congestion and improves breathing.
  • Relieves sinus pressure.
  • Improves conditions without the side-effects of over-the-counter medication, like drowsiness or stimulation.

It’s always best to consult with your healthcare provider about the best course of action and if a neti pot is a good choice for you. It’s also important to be sure you use it properly.

How to use a neti pot

Your neti pot will push a flow of a saline solution through your nasal passages, clearing out built-up mucus and allergens trapped inside your nasal passage. Saline helps prevent irritation of your nasal passage.

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For your standard teapot-shaped neti pot, the tool works pretty simply:

  • Combine warm water with the salt package provided with your neti pot to make the saline solution and pour that in your neti pot.
  • Position yourself over a sink. You’ll be pouring water from your nose so you want the minimum amount of clean up.
  • Place the tip of the spout inside one nostril, creating a seal.
  • Tilt your head forward, looking down at the sink, and lift the neti pot at an angle, sending the saline solution into your nasal passage.
  • Gravity carries the solution through your nasal cavity and out of your other nostril.
  • Allow the solution and any excess mucus to drip out from your nostril, blowing your nose to clear the nasal passage.
  • Repeat for your other nostril.      

Tips for using your neti pot

While there are a number of benefits to using a neti pot, there are important tips to keep in mind to get the best possible results and to avoid creating any unnecessary issues from regular use.

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 they 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.

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’s 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. 

Don’t use cold solutions

You should never use a 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.

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“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.”

Clean your neti pot thoroughly

Besides the water you use, it’s 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. 

Risks and side effects of using a neti pot

For the most part, neti pots are safe to use as long as you properly follow directions, especially with the saline solution, and keep your neti pot properly cleaned.

Only use the saline packets that are typically included with your neti pot or sold separately for neti pot use. Using too much of the saline mix can lead to irritation of the nasal passage, so follow directions.

And, as mentioned earlier, if you don’t clean your device thoroughly, you do risk putting bacteria right back in your nasal passage for additional infection.

Be careful about overusing your neti pot, too, because that can lead to irritation of the nasal passage. If your issues continue after a few days, contact your healthcare provider.

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