I've been using a neti pot daily to relieve allergy-related nasal congestion. Is prolonged use safe?
Your neti pot use is probably not a danger, but it may not be as effective as you think—and it depends on what you mean by prolonged use.
A neti pot is one form of nasal irrigation; you can also use a simple bulb syringe. While several studies have found that short-term irrigation for seasonal allergies and other nasal congestion can be helpful, the effectiveness of long-term use, especially for prevention of allergy symptoms, is unproven.
How neti pots work: Neti pots, which look like little teapots, originated in India, where many yoga devotees regularly cleanse their nasal passages in preparation for their exercises. The flow of warm, slightly salty water flushes out accumulated mucus and nasal debris.
Pros of Nasal Irrigation: On the pro-irrigation side, a review by the Cochrane Collaboration in 2009 concluded that longer-term nasal saline irrigation may be beneficial for "persistent sino-nasal disease." It found no danger of harmful effects besides mild irritation and an occasional burning sensation.
Cons of Nasal Irrigation: But some studies suggest that daily cleansings for a year or so can actually lead to more frequent sinus infections. The potential danger: excessive nasal washing may remove too much protective mucus.
If you aren't familiar with nasal irrigation, here's one way to do it:
Neti Pot Instructions
- Dissolve a teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of baking soda in two cups of distilled or sterile water you buy at the store. Fill the neti pot. (Alternatives: Use tap water that has been boiled for 5 minutes, then cooled until lukewarm. Or, use water passed through a filter with an absolute pore size of 1 micron or smaller. Boiling or filtering tap water is necessary to rid infectious organisms that might be present, according to the FDA.)
- Lean over the sink and turn your head 45 degrees, so one nostril is above the other. Gently insert the tip of the pot into the upper nostril. Breathe through your mouth and raise the handle so the water enters the upper nostril and then drains from the lower nostril.
- When the neti pot is empty, exhale through both nostrils to remove excess solution and mucus. Gently blow your nose.
- Repeat with your other nostril.
There are videos showing this on YouTube.
Bottom line: Though nasal irrigation, such as with neti pots, can provide short-term relief, don't expect it to prevent colds, allergies, or other nasal conditions. If you have chronic nasal or sinus problems, see your doctor to find out what's causing them.
Sources: Originally published in The University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter (February 2011); FDA, "Is Rinsing Your Sinuses Safe?," August 23, 2012