FDA: Improper Neti Pot use opens risk to brain-eating amoebas, other bacteria

Neti Pots are a fixture in many homes

DETROIT – Neti Pots are a fixture in many homes to flush out clogged nasal passages.

The nasal irrigation systems use saline, or saltwater to treat congested sinuses caused by colds and allergies.

But improper use of these pots can increase your risk of infection. Here's more info from the FDA:

These nasal rinse devices — which include bulb syringes, squeeze bottles, and battery-operated pulsed water devices — are usually safe and effective products when used and cleaned properly, says Eric A. Mann, MD, PhD, a doctor at FDA.

What does safe use mean? First, rinse only with distilled, sterile or previously boiled water.

Tap water isn’t safe for use as a nasal rinse because it’s not adequately filtered or treated. Some tap water contains low levels of organisms — such as bacteria and protozoa, including amoebas — that may be safe to swallow because stomach acid kills them. But in your nose, these organisms can stay alive in nasal passages and cause potentially serious infections.

They can even be fatal in some rare cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Very rarely, Naegleria fowleri (brain-eating amoeba) infections have been reported when people submerge their heads or irrigate their sinuses (nose) using contaminated tap water. If you are making a solution for irrigating, flushing, or rinsing your sinuses (for example, by using a neti pot, sinus rinse bottle, or other irrigation device), use safe water to protect yourself.

Take at least one of these actions to lower your risk of becoming infected:

Boil: Use water that has been previously boiled for 1 minute and left to cool.
At elevations above 6,500 feet, boil for 3 minutes.

Filter: Use a filter designed to remove some water-loving germs.
The label may read "NSF 53" or "NSF 58."
Filter labels that read “absolute pore size of 1 micron or smaller” are also effective.

Buy: Use water with a label specifying that it contains distilled or sterile water.

Disinfect: Learn how to disinfect your water to ensure it is safe from Naegleria.
Chlorine bleach used at the right level and time will work as a disinfectant against this germ.

Safely Use Nasal Irrigation Systems

“There are various ways to deliver saline to the nose. Nasal spray bottles deliver a fine mist and might be useful for moisturizing dry nasal passages. But irrigation devices are better at flushing the nose and clearing out mucus, allergens and bacteria,” Mann says.

Information included with the irrigation device might give more specific instructions about its use and care. These devices all work in basically the same way:

- Leaning over a sink, tilt your head sideways with your forehead and chin roughly level to avoid liquid flowing into your mouth.

- 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.

- Clear your nostrils. Then repeat the procedure, tilting your head sideways, on the other side.

Sinus rinsing can remove dust, pollen and other debris, as well as help to loosen thick mucus. It can also help relieve nasal symptoms of sinus infections, allergies, colds and flu. Plain water can irritate your nose.

The saline allows the water to pass through delicate nasal membranes with little or no burning or irritation.
And if your immune system isn’t working properly, consult your health care provider before using any nasal irrigation systems.

About the Author:

Ken Haddad is the digital special projects manager for WDIV / ClickOnDetroit.com. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013.