Monday Medical: My neti pot adventure

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Imagine a little teapot with a long spout that has nothing to do with brewing tea. Called a neti pot, it might be a key to good health.

Neti pots are used to rinse the nasal passages with a saline solution. Nasal saline irrigation can be very useful in patients with chronic sinus symptoms caused by allergies, irritants from workplace exposure and sinus infections.

As a lifelong sufferer of allergies, I was intrigued by the idea of the neti pot as an all-natural allergy therapy. Yet pouring a teapot full of salt water into my nose sounded more like torture than treatment.

When persistent allergy symptoms overtook my fear, I headed straight to the local pharmacy to pick up my first neti pot. After reading the instructions twice and studying the diagrams, I embarked on my adventure.

I admit the sensation was a little strange as a stream of water poured out of my nostril into the sink below. To my surprise, there was no pain, and to my daughters’ delight, I had just performed a really cool party trick. (Wouldn’t most kids think a teapot up mom’s nose was funny?)

The happy ending here is that the nasal rinse actually gave me relief from my stuffy nose.

“Saline irrigation can help through a variety of mechanisms,” said Dr. Kristen Fahrner, a Steamboat Springs ear, nose and throat physician who specializes in allergies. “First, it helps to thin and remove nasal mucous, which can help to improve chronic postnasal drip and congestion. Second, it allows the hair cells within the nose to work more effectively to clear nasal mucus buildup. It also works as a moisturizer and can be used to clear irritants after exposure, for example, pollen, coal mine dust, etc.”

The procedure for nasal rinsing varies slightly by device, but generally involves these steps:

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

■ Breathe through your open mouth, insert the spout into your upper nostril so that the liquid drains through the lower nostril.

■ Let the liquid clear from your nose by leaning over the sink. Blow your nose gently, then repeat the process on the other side.

Recent news stories have touted the dangers of neti pots, but Fahrner said, “The benefits of frequent saline irrigation have been confirmed through vigorous scientific review, citing improvement in nasal symptoms, quality of life and significant reduction in medication use. Nasal irrigation is typically well-tolerated. Only rarely will side effects occur.”

Nasal irritation is one possible side effect. In rare circumstances, a serious brain infection from bacteria (Naegleria fowleri) can occur if plain tap water is used for nasal rinsing.

It is important to use only distilled, sterile or previously boiled tap water. Be sure to add a salt mixture to your water. Easy premade packets of salt solution can be found at any pharmacy to prepare your saline rinse.

Talk to your health care provider to determine whether a neti pot will be safe or effective for you or someone in your family.

“Even young children can use saline irrigation with a little patience and proper training,” Fahrner said.

If symptoms are not relieved or if they worsen after nasal rinsing, return to your health care provider, especially if you experience fever, nosebleed or headaches.

Heather Rose is a wellness specialist at Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at heather.rose@yvmc.org.

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