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Using Neti Pots for Nasal Decongestion

Neti pots are a great way to clear stuffy noses but it's paramount that they're used properly.

‘Tis the season to be jolly, that is if you’re not suffering from stuffy noses and labored breathing. Although Christmas conjures up images of Santa Clauses and mistletoe, the winter season also makes you more vulnerable to the common cold and sinus congestion. These illnesses, while not so severe as to be debilitating, can be bothersome enough to hamper your daily activities. The constant sneezing and allergies, the headaches and overall feeling of weariness can dampen the holiday spirits and make you wish you could just lie in bed the whole day. Hence, it’s time to bring out the neti pot - that mini-teapot lookalike that comes with a spout and is a popular tool for nasal cleansing.

Nasal cleansing or irrigation, a doctor-recommended component to the treatment of sinusitis, has its origins in ancient India. It's a technique in ayurvedic medicine that makes use of the neti pot to rid the nostrils of excess mucus and dirt that contribute to congestion. Although the neti pot has been used for many years in the East, it became a household commodity in the US only lately when it was featured on an Oprah Winfrey show.

Recent events have unfairly put the neti pot in a bad light. Two fatalities in the state of Louisiana have been attributed to Naegleria fowleri, a lethal type of amoeba that thrives in tap water. The amoeba allegedly gained entry into the sinuses and traveled to the brains of its victims through the use of neti pots, causing their deaths in a matter of days. In both instances, tap water was used to fill the neti pots instead of the prescribed distilled or sterilized water.

However, these cases are still being studied by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to find out if indeed tap water was the source of the amoeba or if it came from water in the pond or lake, since tap water goes through a stringent water treatment process. These tragic incidents should not put you off using the neti pot. Used properly, it provides relief from the symptoms associated with allergies and nasal infections.

Benefits of Using the Neti Pot

  • It cleanses the nasal passages by washing away dirt, dust and other allergens.
  • It hydrates nasal membranes by maintaining a moist normal layer of mucus.
  • It removes excess mucus that causes clogged nostrils.
  • It reduces the symptoms of sinus infections and improves breathing.
  • It lessens the need for medication.

How to Use the Neti Pot

Most neti pots come with instructions, or ask your doctor to explain the process when he recommends it to you. There are pre-mixed packs of salt or you can make your own. As a general rule, here are the basic guidelines to using the neti pot.

Mix about 16 ounces of warm sterilized water with ½ teaspoon of non-iodized salt and pour it into the neti pot. A saline solution is gentler on the nasal membranes. Tilt your head sideways, about 45 degrees, and jut forward over the sink. Put the spout into your nostril. Slowly pour the saline mixture into your nostril; the solution will flow out naturally from the other nostril. Blow your nose to remove any remaining solution and refill the neti pot. Repeat with the other nostril.

The first few times may make you feel like you are drowning. Other users report a stinging feeling at first. Sometimes the water flows into your throat. These are not to be worried about though and are very normal when using neti pots. Simply spit out any solution that seeps into your mouth. With regular use, you’ll feel more comfortable using the neti pot.

Chronic sinus sufferers may have nasal irrigation daily until the symptoms lessen, after which they may use the neti pot three times a week to prevent clogged nostrils, headaches and cough.

Different Types of Neti Pots

Neti pots come in various materials - plastic, ceramic or copper. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages and knowing what these are will help you make your choice.

Plastic neti pots are cheap, lightweight and unbreakable; they are ideal for travelling. The plastic type looks cheap and is not environment-friendly. Over time, it gives off a certain odor and deteriorates more quickly than other materials.

Ceramic neti pots come in many forms and designs, which make them less clinical looking and more pleasing to the eye. Ceramic is also less resistant to heat compared to plastic. The ceramic neti pot has to be handled with care as it can break easily; it also has to come in a smaller size or it gets too heavy. Another downside to the ceramic neti pot is its porous property that may trap bacteria and allow it to live in the pores. There are glazed ceramic neti pots however, that cover these pores to prevent trapping of bacteria and dirt.

Neti pots made of copper are unbreakable and some Eastern medicine believe that copper has medicinal values. The disadvantages to copper are its sharp edges, the spout can leak or snap off with age, the tarnishing that makes it look unattractive and dirty and possible reactions with sodium. Copper neti pots are also more expensive.

Care for the Neti Pot

Caring for your neti pot is very important. Keeping it clean and dry prevents untoward incidents like superimposed infections and prolongs its shelf life. Here are tips on how to take good care of your neti pot:

  • Wash and clean the neti pot with hot water and soap after each use.
  • Leave it to dry completely.
  • Never use tap water for your solution. Use distilled water or the pre-mixed solution.
  • Replace your pot every few months. It costs as little as $10 to $25 and is well worth the purchase in terms of safety.

The neti pot is a handy piece of equipment to have around the house. Minor respiratory conditions can resolve quickly with the use of neti pots and oftentimes, medicines may not be necessary. Discretion is the key to using the neti pot. For more severe or prolonged symptoms, it's advisable to seek expert medical attention.


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