Courtesy of target.comApril Daniels Hussar, SELF magazine
Feeling a little stuffy? Fall allergies kicking in? A neti pot can be a great source of relief to your beleaguered sinuses, but according to a new warning from the FDA, using the wrong kind of water is dangerous -- and possibly deadly.
"The FDA has concerns about the risk of infection tied to the improper use of neti pots and other nasal rinsing devices," the agency says on its website. "These devices are generally safe and useful products... but they must be used and cleaned properly. Most important is the source of water that is used with nasal rinsing devices. Tap water that is not filtered, treated, or processed in specific ways is not safe for use as a nasal rinse."
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Just how not safe? "Improper use of neti pots may have caused two deaths in 2011 in Louisiana from a rare brain infection that the state health department linked to tap water contaminated with an amoeba called Naegleria fowleri," the FDA adds.
But before you toss your neti pot in the trash, consider this: "Overall, neti pots are great!" Madeleine Schaberg, M.D., an attending physician in rhinology at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, tells HealthySELF. "The main idea of neti pots is to wash out the sinuses, keep things moving and get rid of 'stasis' -- mucus accumulated in your nose," she says. "They also wash out allergens that might be lining your sinuses."
But, Dr. Schaberg says, as the FDA points out, using tap water is a dangerous proposition. The agency says some neti pots and other nasal washes may come with "misleading or missing" information, and that only these types of water are safe to use in nasal rinsing devices:
Distilled or sterile water, which you can buy in stores. The label will state "distilled" or "sterile."
Boiled and cooled tap water -- boiled for 3-5 minutes, then cooled until it is lukewarm. Previously boiled water can be stored in a clean, closed container for use within 24 hours.
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Water passed through a filter with an absolute pore size of 1 micron or smaller, which traps potentially infectious organisms (you can buy these filters from some hardware and discount stores, or online).
However, Dr. Schaberg says it's safest to buy distilled water, because boiling your own tap water "might not be good enough." And your Brita is definitely not going to cut it, she adds.
"There can be amoebas in tap water," Dr. Schaberg explains. "They'd never bother you if you swallowed them, because your gut can process them, but they can burrow through your sinuses into your brain, causing amoebic encephalitis, and you die." YIKES.
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Just how likely is that to happen? Not very, says Dr. Schaberg (she says in the Northeast it's "like one in a million," because tap water doesn't contain the same amoebas as tap water might in the South), but it's not worth the risk.
Using distilled water is important whether you're using a neti pot or ANY type of nasal irrigation, adds Dr. Schaberg. "Some people don't like the way neti pots feel, and might prefer a nasal wash," Dr. Schaberg adds, explaining that nasal washes, which are sold by many different companies, work by flushing water in and out the same nostril, whereas neti pots are designed for water to go in one nostril and drain out the other.
The FDA says it's also important to use and care for your neti pots and other sinus rinsing devices correctly:
- Wash and dry hands.
- Check that the device is clean and completely dry.
- Use the appropriate water as recommended above to prepare the saline rinse, either with the prepared mixture supplied with the device, or one you make yourself.
- Follow the manufacturer's directions for use.
- Wash the device with distilled, sterile or boiled and cooled tap water, and then dry the inside with a paper towel or let it air dry between uses.