Got gunk? A Neti pot may help

What you need to know about nasal rinsing to clear away head congestion

Curious about trying a Neti pot, but a little afraid? Some people swear by these nasal-rinsing devices to manage their clogged-up sinuses. Some people are completely freaked out about them.

Nasal rinsing, or irrigation, with a saline solution can moisten irritable, dry nasal passageways and relieve symptoms of sinus infections, colds, infections and flu.

Using a nasal irrigation device can be tricky to get the hang of, and it doesn’t work for everyone. Some liken the feeling to what happens when you get water up your nose. Others say they feel as if the gunk in their nasal cavities just moves to another spot — say, their ears, their throat or even their tear ducts. And many feel a release of sinus pressure and find relief.

The FDA gives these general guidelines for using a nasal rinsing device:

  • Wash and dry your hands, and check that the device is clean and completely dry.
  • Use distilled, boiled or filtered water to prepare the rinse solution.
  • Lean over a sink, with your head tilted sideways and your forehead and chin roughly level to avoid having liquid flow into your mouth.
  • Then, breathing through your open mouth, insert the spout of the saline-filled container into your upper nostril so that the liquid drains through the lower nostril.
  • Blow your nose to clear any remaining dirt, dust, pollen, debris or mucus.
  • Tilt your head in the opposite direction and repeat for the other nostril.
  • Always wash the device with distilled, sterile or boiled and cooled tap water when you are finished. Dry the inside with a paper towel or let it air-dry between uses.

There is a down side

All nasal rinsing devices, including Neti pots, bulb syringes, squeeze bottles and battery-operated pulsed water devices, are generally safe and useful, but they must be used and cleaned properly.

The most important step, which the FDA says many users bypass, is using distilled, sterile or other treated water to prepare the saline solution and clean the device. Tap water can be used if it is properly filtered, treated or processed, such as boiling it for three to five minutes and then cooling it to room temperature.

Some tap water has low levels of organisms, such as bacteria, protozoa and amoebas, which may be safe to swallow because they are killed by stomach acid. However, the CDC warns these “bugs” can lodge in the nasal passageways and multiply, causing potentially serious infections.

If you are ready to try one of these devices, only use distilled, boiled or filtered water. Consult a health care provider or pharmacist if you have any concerns, if the symptoms are not relieved or worsen, or if you develop fever, nosebleeds or headaches.


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