Flushing your nasal passages with warm salt water can do wonders for congestion and sinus pain caused by colds and allergies, but use a neti pot improperly, and it could result in death. Louisiana's state health department has issued a warning for neti pots in response to two deaths thought to be linked to improper neti pot use. Both victims filled their neti pots with regular tap water instead of the manufacturer-recommended distilled or sterilized water.
Louisiana state department health officials believe deadly brain-eating amoebas known as Naegleria fowleri, which can live in tap water, entered into the victims' bodies through their noses, then made their way into their brains. The amoeba then infected each victim with a neurological disease called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), which quickly destroys brain tissue, usually killing in a matter of days.
Scary, I know, but don't throw out your neti pot just yet. Keep reading to find out how to safely irrigate your sinuses.
Water that pours out of your faucets and showerheads undergoes an extensive purification process, which includes chlorination to kill bacteria, parasites, viruses, and microorganisms like Naegleria fowleri. Unfortunately, some may survive, but don't worry — regular exposure through drinking or bathing won't put you at risk. For infection to occur, the microorganism needs to be forced deep into a person's nasal passages in order to have access to the brain and cause this fatal disease. The two deaths are still under investigation with the help of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but if it turns out that tap water was the culprit, it will remind us that the water that's safe to sip or shower in may not be safe for irrigating your nose.
This may come as a shock since many of you (myself included) have always used warm tap water in our neti pots, so here are helpful tips for safe neti pot use:
- Always make sure your neti pot is disinfected before using. Clean it thoroughly after each use with soap and hot water, and store it upright in a well-ventilated area, such as the bathroom counter, so it has a chance to dry out completely before the next use.
- Only fill your pot with distilled or sterilized water. You can use tap water: just be sure to boil it for at least five minutes and then allow it to cool before using. As discovered from the Louisiana state report, using warm tap water directly from the faucet or shower could cause health issues when used for nasal irrigation.
- Use regular salt or specific neti pot salt only. Do not use iodized salt since it can cause irritation. Store the salt in a sealed container to prevent contamination.
- Don't share your neti pot with others to avoid passing germs.