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What Is a Neti Pot?

Nasal Irrigation May Improve Snoring, Make Sleep Apnea Treatment Easier

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Updated December 26, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What Is a Neti Pot?

Some sleep disturbances such as snoring and obstructive sleep apnea may be worsened by nasal congestion. A simple device known as a neti pot can be helpful in relieving congestion. What is a neti pot? How do you use a neti pot? Explore the answers and discover whether it might help your difficulty breathing at night.

What Is a Neti Pot?

A neti pot is a fluid-filled vessel that is used to flush or rinse the sinuses and nasal passages with warm water. It is a specially designed small container often made of ceramic or plastic that is shaped like a flattened tea pot. It typically is lidded and has a spout on one end and a handle on the other. The size may vary, but most can hold about one cup or eight ounces of fluid. They are typically filled with sterile water and a mixture of salt or baking soda. Neti pots are often sold over-the-counter in pharmacies or online and usually cost between $8 and $20.

When to Use a Neti Pot

The use of neti pots can be traced back several centuries and it is most often used in modern times to treat difficulties breathing related to the nose. Environmental allergies or infection may lead to inflammation of the nasal passage and associated sinuses. This may lead to nasal congestion and difficulties breathing. Snoring or obstructive sleep apnea may also occur. Sinus problems may also cause headaches and facial pain. Some people prefer to use a neti pot rather than medications to alleviate these symptoms.

The neti pot is a method of nasal irrigation. In other words, it is used to rinse out your nose and the connected sinuses. The rationale for this is that this process will clear out the allergens that trigger your congestion if you have allergies as well as any debris, such as mucus, that may be obstructing your ability to breathe. It is also believed that this helps your body’s natural hair cells (called cilia) in the nasal passageway to work more effectively to clear the lining of your nose.

You may consider using a neti pot if you have difficulty breathing through your nose, especially if you have a history of environmental allergies or sinusitis. It may be helpful for people who have colds or are exposed to large amounts of dust as part of their jobs (i.e., construction work, mining, farming). If one side of your nose is completely blocked, you should not try to force water into it. People with a deviated septum or prior ear surgeries may wish to speak to their doctors prior to using a neti pot.

How to Use a Neti Pot

The neti pot is filled with sterile water and a mixture of salt (sodium chloride) and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). There are some recipes available to make your own solution at home. For example, you can take equal parts of non-iodized salt and baking soda and mix them thoroughly and store them in a dry place. Then 1 teaspoon of the mixture can be added to 2 cups of warm water. If you prefer, you can also buy professional-grade ingredients that are pre-mixed. It is very important that you use sterile (bottled, distilled, or boiled) water as there is a risk of serious, life-threatening infection if you just use plain tap water.

When you are ready to irrigate your nose, you should start by washing your hands with soap and water. You can then fill your neti pot with warm sterile water. Add the mixture of salt and baking soda. Put the lid on the neti pot and cover the spout with your finger before agitating the solution to dissolve the mixture.

Next, stand over a sink with your head tilted slightly to the side. You may wish to tip your head forward and tuck your chin to prevent water from getting into your mouth or throat. Put the spout of the neti pot to your nostril and begin slowly pouring the fluid into your nose. The water should pour into one nostril and gradually flow into your nose and out of the other nostril (the nostrils are connected at the top). You can breathe through your mouth during the irrigation. After you have finished pouring in the solution, you can blow your nose gently to clear out the residual solution. A small amount of water remaining in your nose is not harmful. You may preform these rinses several times per day as needed.

How to Clean a Neti Pot

It is important to keep your neti pot clean to prevent infections or contamination by mold. Once you are finished using it, empty out any remaining solution. Take off the lid and clean the neti pot thoroughly with soap and water. You may even wish to let it soak in hot water. The dishwasher may not completely clean out the spout as the dishwasher water will not penetrate into it. You may want to microwave your neti pot to help get it really clean. It is recommended that you thoroughly clean and dry it after each use. It should then be stored in a clean and dry place.

Side Effects of Neti Pot Use

Most people tolerate the use of a neti pot quite well without suffering any adverse side effects. The first time you irrigate your nose you may experience some mild burning or stinging sensations. This may even radiate and be felt as pain in your ears. This only affects about 10 percent of people and often this irritation will decrease with continued use. It is also possible that the irrigation may actually cause nasal congestion, but this will typically resolve on its own. Nosebleeds may occur rarely. It is very common for the irrigation solution to drain down the back of your throat and this is not harmful.

If you do not adequately clean your neti pot or if you use water that is not sterile, you may be at risk for serious infections. Mold or other contaminants may lurk in an unclean neti pot and could be harmful. In addition, there is a risk for an extremely rare but deadly infection.

Over the past years there have been several infections affecting neti pot users in the southern United States. These infections have been caused by an amoeba called Naegleria fowleri that might contaminate tap water. The amoeba is also found in lakes and ponds in the South during the summertime. It causes an infection of the brain and surrounding layer (meninges) called primary amebic meningoencephalitis. Symptoms of this infection may include sleepiness, vomiting, headache, confusion, and hallucinations. It is almost always fatal and 95 percent of people infected with N. fowleri die within two weeks. Though scary, the infection is extremely rare with only 32 cases reported in the past decade, and you can avoid it by using sterile water for nasal irrigation.

The Use of Neti Pots in Snoring and Sleep Apnea

Although using a neti pot is a not advocated as a cure for snoring or sleep apnea, it may help to improve symptoms of nasal congestion. In theory, this might have a mild impact on alleviating or reducing your snoring. It is unlikely to have any significant effect on sleep apnea as this often involves other tissues of the upper airway such as tonsils, adenoids, and the soft tissues of your mouth and throat.

However, neti pots may be beneficial in making other therapies such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) more tolerable. If your nose is stuffed up, pressurized air delivered by a CPAP may not be as effective. Some people may be helped by the use of decongestants and nasal steroids. And, by the same measure, the use of a neti pot may help you to breathe and sleep better.

Sources:

Bonitatibus, A et al. "Nasal Irrigation." Aspen Medical Group, 2007.

Mehta, K. "Educational Brochure: Natural Relief from Allergies and Sinus Symptoms." NeilMed Pharmaceuticals, 2010.

Park, Madison. "Two dead in Louisiana after unclean water used in neti pots." CNN Health, accessed December 16, 2011.

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