Every year there’s a few circulating articles about neti pots and possible brain infections. And it’s true, this has happened. And now that allergy season is coming around, you may be getting ready to use your neti pot more regularly, and thinking about some of those articles, and wondering if you’re putting yourself in danger. The answer: probably not. The few cases in which bacteria have infiltrated the brain from a neti pot have been due to using non-sterile water in the neti pot. Which is a big no-no. Because the neti pot introduces water (and whatever is in the water) so high up into the nasal and sinus cavities it is a lot easier for bacteria (if it’s in the water) to get in places it never would get normally. So either boil your water first, or use distilled water.
Another important step, is to use salt (in the proper dilution), which also will kill bacteria (but you should already be using sterile, or distilled water). The typical dilution is ¼ tsp of finely ground salt per 8 oz of sterile water. Using non-iodized salt is generally preferable, since the iodine can be irritating.
Here is a full run down of the directions and procedure of using a neti pot:
- Mix a 1/4 tsp of ﬁnely ground salt (non-iodized) in 8oz of warm sterile water.
- Lean head to one side over the sink (because the water is going to come out the other side:) Keep your forehead at the same level as your chin.
- Insert the spout in the upper nostril (you’ll have to insert it far enough to make a seal.
- Raise the neti pot slowly so the saline solution flows in through the upper nostril and out the other nostril (breathe through your mouth).
- When all the water is gone, face the sink and exhale through the nose vigorously without pinching the nostrils – this will help clear the nasal passages.
- Repeat on other side.
After the Wash
Here are some exercises that are recommended to help get any lingering saline solution out of your nasal passages (the first exercise is a must do, the others, optional, but perhaps helpful):
Exhale vigorously through both nostrils with your head over the sink. Don’t pinch your nostrils if you are blowing into the tissue, the idea is to maximize the airflow out of the nose.
Bend forward from the waist, attempting to touch your toes. Your head should be pointing toward the floor. Stay in this position for a few seconds, then return to standing and exhale vigorously a few times.
Alternate Toe Touching
Place your feet shoulder width apart apart. Raise your arms out to the side. Slowly bend from the waist and bring the left hand to the right knee (or shin, or foot). Reach toward the ceiling with your right hand; turn your head gently and look toward your raised hand. Hold for a few seconds. Repeat on other side. End by exhaling vigorously through the nose.
- Clean your neti pot after each use. Use the dishwasher for a thorough sanitizing every once in awhile. Do not share your neti pot with anyone else. (It’s like a toothbrush)
- Burning in the nose often occurs if you are not using enough salt.
- If you experience any discomfort please discontinue using your neti pot and consult your doctor or other health care provider.
Node Smith, associate editor for NDNR, is a fifth year naturopathic medical student at NUNM, where he has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine amongst the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend campout where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Three years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.