Neti, more commonly known in the Unites States as nasal irrigation, made national headlines not long ago because of issues caused by using contaminated water for a nasal rinse. The government has issued warnings about proper neti usage, giving rise to fears about neti pots as a conduit for a deadly infections. But the ancient Indian ayurvedic technique of using a neti pot, which dates back thousands of years, actually presents a very minor risk. With a simple precaution (make sure you use sterile water), neti pots may just be the ticket to clear nasal passages ahead.
Jordan Josephson, MD, a New York city-based nasal and endoscopic sinus surgeon and author of Sinus Relief Now, compares neti to cleaning the filter of your air conditioner. “Your sinuses are the filter for the air your breathe,” he says. “Just as you to ensure your AC’s optimal functioning by cleaning the filter, so should you rinse out your nose passages.”
In case you are unfamiliar with a neti pot, picture a small teapot with a long spout. Typically, you would fill your pot or other irrigation device with a mixture of about 16 ounces of lukewarm water (distilled or previously boiled) with one teaspoon of neti pot salt. The spout is inserted into one nostril, creating a seal. Leaning over the sink, you pour the water from the pot into your nasal passage, tilting so the water comes out the other nostril.
This irrigation gets the gunk out of your nose, relieving not only allergies and colds, but a long list of other sinus woes, including nasal obstruction, coughs, nasal drip, hoarseness, sinus headaches and even a decreased sense of smell.
The reason colds are more prevalent during the chillier months of the year is not because of the dip in temperatures, says Josephson, but because we are all suddenly breathing the same air. He stresses that rinsing with a nasal pot is a good idea for everyone—not just as a curative, but as a preventative too.
Josephson even suggests starting children with a nasal spray from between the ages of 2 and 3, and then having them graduate to neti by age 6 or 7. A 2008 study published in the Journal for Oto-rhino-laryngology and its Related Specialties suggested that children with severe allergies who consistently irrigate their nasal passageways have less reliance on steroid nasal sprays.
Go ahead, try it
For many, the unknown—in this case, pouring water down your nose, not a habit most people are accustomed to—keeps them from trying neti. Admittedly, it can feel strange. If you want to ease into it, start with a nasal mist. Although not as dramatic as neti pots—a 2007 study published in Archives of Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery showed nasal irrigation to be more effective than sprays—they are still a worthwhile point of entry. Try rinsing (or misting) two to three times a week and increase to daily use. Josephson's bonus tip: Using a neti pot after a day at the office may help reduce your likelihood of catching a cold.
Since it is such an intimate process, special care should be reserved for your neti pot. The cases of brain infection linked to neti pots highlights the potential—although exceedingly rare—risk involved in rinsing your nose with tap water. Josephson recommends using distilled water, or boil water and let it cool to an appropriate temperature.
Clean your pot or lavage bottle thoroughly after each use, as bacteria can form on the spout of the pot, further exacerbating irritations or allergies. Finally, similar to toothbrushes, neti pots are not for sharing—too much risk of spreading harmful germs. With good maintenance and clean water, nasal rinses may become as essential a habit as brushing your teeth.