Are you a neti-pot user? If you rely on this little vessel to breathe easier, you may have been alarmed by recent headlines saying that two people died from a “brain-eating” amoeba introduced by their neti-pots. To find out if this threat is something you should worry about—and the best ways to protect yourself—we turned to Whole Living advisory board member Woodson Merrell, M.D., chairman of the department of integrative medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center, for the straight talk.
It’s extremely unlikely that your neti-pot could become a risk, he says. In both cases, a rare amoeba called Naegleria fowleri, which seeped from the waterways into the tap water, was to blame. Although safe to drink, the microorganism can pass through the sinuses to the brain and cause a dangerous infection. “That’s why you should only use sterilized water in your neti-pot,” says Merrell, who advises boiling H20 before each use. (Bottled and pitcher-distilled water are still risky.) Afterwards, rinse the device thoroughly with sterilized water and periodically disinfect it with a highly diluted bleach solution.
It’s also important to use your neti-pot the right way: Gently rinse your nasal passages instead of blasting the solution into your sinuses. Merrell recommends using neti-pots and squeeze bottles mainly for allergies. “For colds and other infections, steam inhalation is better for penetrating sinuses,” he says. No matter the method, adding a few drops of tea tree or eucalyptus oil to the saline solution can help. “Besides being decongestants, they’re also germicidal,” he says. “They further help to kill microorganisms.”
Curious about how to use a neti pot? Click here to find a video.