- Neti pots use salt water to flush your nasal cavities to relieve nasal congestion and allergies.
- They originated in India, in Ayurvedic medicine.
- Clinical studies have confirmed their effectiveness.
Anyone who has ever played in rough surf at the shore can
tell you there’s nothing quite so bracing as having cold seawater forced
through your nasal passages. While initially unpleasant, this forced irrigation
sometimes results in unexpected, but not unwelcome, relief from clogged
sinuses. Perhaps it was just such an experience that inspired someone in India,
long, long ago, to try voluntary nasal irrigation to relieve the annoying
symptoms of allergies.
Among the worst symptoms of nasal allergies, also called allergic rhinitis,
are excess mucus production, stuffy nose, runny nose, and irritated nasal
passages and sinuses. Some people with allergies develop a condition called
chronic rhinosinusitis, a continually inflamed condition characterized by
irritated or even infected sinus cavities.
Centuries ago, practitioners of Ayurveda, the traditional Indian
medicine system, pioneered the use of warm saltwater to flush nasal cavities
and remove excess mucus, pollen, and other debris.
Also known as “nasal douche” or “nasal lavage,” nasal
irrigation uses two simple ingredients: salt water and a specially designed
vessel, called a neti pot, which delivers a stream of salt water into your
nasal cavities through one nostril and out the other. Practitioners usually do
this one to four times per day, with no dip in the sea required.
Supporters of the technique claim it offers significant
relief from nasal congestion and irritation. They also claim it can reduce
headaches associated with sinus congestion and allows people to reduce their
reliance on antibiotics to combat sinus infections. It can decrease the use of
nasal corticosteroid sprays for the control of allergy-related nasal
inflammation. Users report feeling “empowered” to take control of their
allergies and claim that it delivers significant improvements in their quality
Numerous clinical trials have been conducted, and most agree
that nasal irrigation is safe and well tolerated. At worst, they note that the
procedure can be cumbersome, requiring more effort than other options, such as
At best, nasal irrigation provides significant improvements
in a wide range of allergy symptoms. Researchers at the University of California,
San Diego, studied more than 200 patients who used the procedure. Subjects
experienced “statistically significant improvements” in 23 of 30 symptoms, plus
improvements in subjective quality-of-life ratings.
There are a few caveats, however.
Don’t Use on Infants
Irrigation shouldn’t be used on infants.
Don’t Use Regularly
Regular use of nasal irrigation may actually increase the
risk of sinus infection. Occasional use hasn’t been linked to this risk, but
routine use should be discouraged. Routine use may remove some protective
elements of the mucus membranes lining the nasal passages and sinuses.
Only Use Sterile Water
One final warning: It’s crucial to use sterile water to
prepare the irrigation solution. Boiling before use should be sufficient. A
parasitic amoeba, Naegleria fowleri,
has been linked to several deaths among neti pot users who failed to use
sterile water. Once introduced into the sinuses, the parasite makes its way to
the brain, causing an infection that is fatal.
How It’s Done
A neti pot is a simple device that looks like a small teapot.
Warm, sterile water is mixed with pure salt in the pot. While tilting your head
slightly to one side, place the spout in your nostril on top and let the saline
solution drain through your bottom nostril.
As noted above, it’s crucial to use sterile water. Create a
saline solution by adding the correct amount of pure, non-iodized sodium
chloride to the water, to create one of two solutions:
which is 0.9% salt and 9 g sodium chloride dissolved in one liter of water
which is a 0.7% to 0.3% salt solution
Kosher salt is a suitable source of pure sodium chloride
with no added minerals. Nasal irrigation should not be attempted with tap water
or distilled water. Sterility is essential for safety, and salt prevents the
uncomfortable burning sensation associated with the use of non-isotonic
Isotonic solutions contain enough dissolved solids to match
the concentration of solutes dissolved in the blood. Not surprisingly, seawater
is essentially an isotonic solution of salt and water. However, seawater should
never be used deliberately, due to risk of introducing unwanted contaminants.
Neti pots are a great, natural way to relieve nasal
congestion and allergies, as long as you use sterile water and don’t use it too
frequently. They have been a part of Ayurvedic medicine for hundreds of years.
Be sure to ask your doctor if you have any concerns about using one.