We, the You Docs, have avidly recommended neti pots more often than Regis Philbin used to be on TV.
Neti pots—which look like a genie’s lamp, are used with a saline solution that you pour into one nostril, flushing the junk out the other nostril. This is good housekeeping for the sinuses and brings quick relief to sinus sufferers and to those who feel stuffy after sleeping.
The manufacturers sold out (even Wal-Mart and Walgreens couldn’t keep them in stock) after one of us, Dr. Oz, while talking with Oprah about some of the cool things in our "You: The Owner’s Manual" book, mentioned and then demo-ed how to use neti pots. Literally thousands wrote us of their joy (you can anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org) after enjoying clearer breathing for the first time in many years after they tried a neti pot.
So we were taken aback to learn of two deaths attributed to neti pot use. There is a message here: You should “use all medical devises as directed”. We’ll tell you how for this one, but you be the judge of whether the attribution of deaths to neti-pot use is right on, and if neti pots are really a risk to your brain.
Here’s a synopsis of the press release straight from Baton Rouge:
The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals warned residents about the dangers of the improper use of neti pots. The warning follows the state's second death this year caused by Naegleria fowleri, the so-called brain-eating amoeba. Naegleria fowleri infects people by entering the body through the nose causing primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a brain infection that destroys brain tissue. In its early stages, symptoms of PAM are similar to bacterial meningitis, but PAM progresses so fast it usually kills before being diagnosed. Louisiana State epidemiologist, Dr. Raoult Ratard says in the statement, "If you are irrigating, flushing, or rinsing your sinuses, for example, by using a neti pot, use distilled, sterile or previously boiled water to make up the irrigation solution. Tap water is safe for drinking, but not for irrigating your nose." You cannot be infected with Naegleria fowleri by drinking water.
The experts we consulted told us that this type of amoeba can’t live in chlorinated water—even weakly chlorinated water kills it, so how did tap water, which should be chlorinated, do this, you might ask. Or did the victims come into contact with the amoeba in some other way? On average, two people die each year of Naegleria fowleri infections after swimming or diving in warm, freshwater lakes and rivers (usually diving in spring water). We do not know whether the victims had recently gone swimming.
In very rare instances, Naegleria fowleri infections may also occur when contaminated water from other sources (such as inadequately chlorinated swimming pool water or heated tap water less than 116.6 degrees Fahrenheit) enters the nose when people submerge their heads or when people irrigate their sinuses with devices such as a neti pot.
MORE: How Much Water Do You Really Need?
But we love this ancient and very safe treatment of sinus problems, clearly confirmed by the hundreds who have written or otherwise communicated with us their joy and feeling of newly found health after neti pot use. So here's what we do and think safe to recommend:
1. Rinse your neti pot after each use and leave open to air dry.
2. If your neti pot develops a crack, throw it out. We “sterilize” ours with dilute sodium hydroxide
(“Clorox,” and other brands) when we go on vacation but wash it out carefully and repeatedly
with tap water and dry before using again.
3. Do not use pond water or spring water or swimming pool water—preferably add the “official”
salt pack (the manufacturer refills cost less than 5 dollars for a 3-5 month supply) to distilled
water. We checked with several experts who tell us that tap water that has chlorination used
for purification and is fresh (meaning the water has run for 20 or 30 seconds) should be fine.
4. Do not share your neti pot even with your spouse, or use yesterday’s saline—mix fresh each day
as yesterday’s saline is a great growth medium for bacteria and viruses as well as amoebas.
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