Neti pots, which look like genies' lamps, have become more popular in recent years as a natural remedy for colds, allergies and sinus infections. Ear, nose, and throat surgeons recommend using a Neti pot or similar device to irrigate nasal passages for patients who have undergone sinus surgery. Many people with sinus symptoms from allergies and environmental irritants also have begun to use the Neti pot to alleviate these symptoms. The Neti pot works by flushing some of the mucus out of the nasal passages. But Neti pots are not a panacea. In recent, but rare incidences, use of neti pots have resulted in deaths.
Two recent deaths have been tied to neti pot use and an aquatic amoeba
Two people died recently from an encephalitis infection after using neti pots. The infection involved brain eating amoebas (just the sound of that scared the bejesus out of me). The amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, is common in rivers and lakes, but only rarely causes brain infections.
Doctors have issued a warning for people not to use tap water in neti pots
After the first incident, doctors thought it might be a fluke. But after the second, doctors have felt the need to issue warnings to patients advising them not to put tap water in their noses.
Tap water is generally safe to drink, the problem is shooting tap water up one's nose
Huh? If I’m drinking tap water, shouldn’t it be clean enough to squirt into my nose? The answer is no. If you are using a neti pot or other nasal device, you should only use distilled or filtered water. Tap water in many places is safer to drink than even bottled water, the specific issue here is having tap water shot up one's nasal cavity.
It is important to regularly clean neti pots and drinking water filters
You should also make sure both your neti pots and your water filters are regularly cleaned. It is also important to let the devices dry, since the amoebas need a wet atmosphere to survive in.
Although neti pot instructions usually recommend using distilled water, people often do not heed recommendations. It is still a very rare occurrence to die from using a neti pot with tap water. Still, it is better to be safe than sorry. Furthermore, neti pots can be more effective for sinus relief when saline water is used.
Avoid other activities that shoot water up one's nose, like diving
Since the neti pot isn’t the culprit, just the conduit to your nose, it is important to note that one should also avoid doing other activities that would shoot water up one's nose, i.e. diving or dunking one’s head in brackish, warm freshwater. This is a note of caution if one is swimming in warm, unchlorinated natural bodies of water, including hot springs. So if you find yourself in hot water, remember to keep your head up. Oh, and save the cannonball for the swimming pool.