NETI POT 101
The Ins (and Outs) of That Mysterious Nose-Water Thing
You ought to know by now that I like me some science! And the science supports neti pots! I am continually telling my friends, family and patients about the wonders of using a neti pot (probably ad nauseam during certain - ahem now - seasons). Even if you don't have a cold, forced winter air is DRY. And if you have a cold … it feels like heaven to wash all the mucus out and feel your sinuses open up!
While I have managed to convince many, my determination to win over the world continues. In case you aren't familiar, a neti pot is a tool used in Ayurvedic medicine to clean the nose and sinuses. It looks like a little tea pot and is filled with warm saline solution. A person uses a neti pot by tilting their head sideways over a sink and then placing the spout to their upper nostril and allowing it to flow through their nose and sinus cavity and come out the lower nostril. The process is then repeated with the head tilted the other way (don't worry there's a video tutorial link below).
I know I know, it sounds gross (maybe even beyond gross), but take it from a person who plugs her nose before jumping into a pool and who can somehow manage to get water up her nose in the shower, it's not the same as getting water up your nose. The temperature and salinity matches your body and so it feels very comfy. It took me a year or two to give in and try it because I was resistant too. But now I adore my neti and my allergies and sinus infections are so much better since using one regularly (and I used to have LOTS of allergies and multiple sinus infections a year, so that's saying something). It absolutely does not feel uncomfortable to use one if done properly ... you won't believe me until you try it. But if you get the temperature and salinity right it actually feels good. Even heavenly ... I promise!
And I mentioned science right? Several scientific studies have found benefit in nasal rinsing aka using a neti pot. Here are just a few:
- A study published in the Ear, Nose, & Throat Journal in 1999 showed that nasal rinsing does a better job of reaching the sinuses than standard nebulizers.
- Numerous studies conducted over the past 20 years have shown that nasal rinsing improves hay fever symptoms and chronic sinusitis.
- A 2001 study performed at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine determined that daily nasal irrigation using a bulb syringe or neti pot resulted in improvement in the symptoms of chronic sinusitis in more than 70 percent of subjects. Medication usage was decreased in approximately one-third of subjects.
- A German study of 134 patients found that most patients responded positively to rinsing their noses and integrated the practice easily into their daily routines. (Half were still rinsing 36 months after the study.) This research recommends warm salt water in the nasal rinse.
- A 2004 study published in The Laryngoscope compared nasal rinsing with metered nasal spray and nebulization, and it determined rinsing was significantly more effective in penetrating the maxillary sinus and frontal recess and should be the method of choice.
- A 2004 study found that nasal irrigation could provide a reasonable and effective alternative to sinus surgery.
- An Italian study of 20 children with hay fever found that nasal rinsing with a hypertonic saline (high salt) solution was tolerable, inexpensive and effective. The kids had fewer symptoms and required lower doses of antihistamines.
- A 2003 review study, published in Canadian Family Physician, concluded that “Nasal irrigation is a simple, inexpensive treatment that relieves the symptoms of a variety of sinus and nasal conditions, reduces use of medical resources, and could help minimize antibiotic resistance.”
- And a review paper from the Department of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, summed it up. “Nasal irrigations should no longer be considered merely adjunctive measures in managing sinonasal conditions.
If you're tempted, here's a professionally produced video by the Himalayan Institute showing you how to use a neti. Now a fair warning - unless you want to see weird stuff like espresso coffee in neti pots, I wouldn't search for others on youtube. This one is all you'll need :)
Oh, and some of you are going to ask … what about that brain eating amoeba (naegleria fowleri) that you can get from neti potting!?! It is true, that it is extremely unlikely, but possible. But I like to come back to the science and data. Sooooo … If you are really terrified and still want to neti, do what the article this quote comes from suggests and use distilled or boiled water in your neti pot. Just make sure whatever water you use is at body temperature before you neti with it for comfort. You should keep your neti clean too, which is probably a bigger risk than the amoeba! But don't let this fear stop you. Your odds are greater that you'll drown or get hit by a bus, which is to say, be aware of the actual risk level and worry accordingly. Personally, I take my risks with tap water. I don't have the time to boil and cool, or heat up distilled water!