Neti-pot irrigation can be an effective non-pharmaceutical intervention for many sufferers of chronic sinus congestion.
As a physician-patient, I usually prefer safe, effective treatments that avoid lifelong systemic medications for chronic conditions. But an ABC News story highlighted a serious risk of improper Neti pot use: life-threatening infection with a rare water-borne amoeba (Naegleria fowleri).
"If you are irrigating, flushing or rinsing your sinuses...use distilled, sterile or previously boiled water to make up the irrigation solution," Louisiana State epidemiologist Dr. Raoult Ratard said in a statement. "Tap water is safe for drinking but not for irrigating your nose."
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, says,
Use sterile, boiled [and cooled] or distilled water; rinse [the Neti pot] out thoroughly after use; and air-dry it," he said, adding that water left in the Neti pot after use could become a breeding ground for bacteria and parasites that feed on mucus. "You don't have to send it to an autoclave, but it does require some attention to detail.
Naegleria fowleri enters the body through the nose to cause primary amoebic meningoencephalitis -- a brain infection with symptoms similar to those of bacterial meningitis....if left untreated, the infection can cause death within one to 12 days.
If neti pots work for you, don't simply discard yours. As a Healthy Survivor, discuss with your physician and act on your knowledge of the risks by taking proper precautions.