Do you need a neti pot — and is it safe to use? Here's what experts say.

Should you use a neti pot? What to know amid concerns about infections. (Getty Images)
Should you use a neti pot? What to know amid concerns about infections. (Getty Images)

Struggling with an upper respiratory issue, like a cold or seasonal allergies? Many people turn to neti pots for relief. A neti pot is a small container with a spout used for nasal irrigation. It's filled with a saline solution, which is then poured into one nostril and allowed to flow out of the other, helping to clear out mucus and debris from the nasal passages. This helps relieve congestion and sinus issues.

However, recent news may give neti pot users pause before their next rinse: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just published a report that linked Acanthamoeba infections to neti pots and other nasal rinsing devices.

Acanthamoeba infections can be deadly, but does that mean you should avoid neti pots? Here's what experts say.

Do neti pots work?

Dr. Quintin M. Cappelle, an otolaryngologist, or ear, nose and throat doctor, at the Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse, Wis., tells Yahoo Life that these kinds of sinus rinses, most commonly used with a neti pot or rinse bottle, are recommended for people with nasal or sinus symptoms.

“For patients with more chronic symptoms, such as seasonal allergies, recurrent sinusitis or chronic sinusitis, sinus rinses can be recommended for preventative and maintenance care,” he says. “They are recommended to be performed on a daily or twice-daily basis. They will [also] be recommended after sinus surgery.”

In general, Cappelle says that sinus rinses are “a great first-line intervention for helping create a healthy nasal and sinus environment with relatively low risk of side effects.” Even so, precautions must be taken.

What are the risks of using a neti pot?

Dr. Zara M. Patel, an otolaryngologist at Stanford Medicine, tells Yahoo Life that the biggest risk of using a neti pot is not the device itself but what's inside it. The saline solution should be created using water that has been boiled, distilled, sterilized or filtered; it must be sterile. “The only risk to rinsing your nose with salt water would be if you are not using boiled or distilled water,” she explains. “Many people think that either tap water or bottled water is sterile, but neither is. When you don’t use sterile water, there is the rare chance for microscopic organisms such as bacteria or amoeba to enter your sinus passages, which are directly next to the eye and brain.”

As the CDC warns, that includes Acanthamoeba, a microscopic organism found in soil, dust, freshwater sources like lakes and rivers and even swimming pools, hot tubs and HVAC systems. While eye and skin infections caused by Acanthamoeba are typically treatable, infections that spread to the brain or spinal cord can be fatal.

Patel — who recommends sinus rinsing with a squeeze bottle — notes that these cases are rare and that while it’s “obviously scary to hear about,” you don’t need to skip sinus rinsing. "As long as you use boiled or distilled water, there is no risk of this at all," she says.

How can you ensure you’re using your neti pot safely?

The most important thing neti pot novices need to know: You must use the correct type of water in your neti pot in order to avoid infection. According to the Food and Drug Administration, you can use distilled or sterile water from the store, which is labeled as "distilled" or "sterile." Another option is to boil tap water for three to five minutes, then let it cool until it's lukewarm. Alternatively, you can use water passed through a filter that's made to catch harmful germs.

While the right type of water is crucial, Patel says you must also clean the tool (whether it's a neti pot or rinse bottle) you use for sinus irrigation to “prevent the growth of bacteria, fungus or viruses.” That said, the maintenance is pretty minimal. “Just washing it with hot water and soap, or popping it in the microwave or the top rack of your dishwasher are all great methods to clean your device,” she says.

One thing Patel cautions about is the use of powered devices, which are newer to the market and do the rinse for you while you place it up your nose. Patel doesn’t recommend these, as “the only way to sterilize that motor in these devices would be to run a very dilute bleach solution through” — which means you have to then rinse it multiple times with sterile water to remove the bleach. “For most people, that whole process becomes more cumbersome than using one of the more simple devices, so I usually just recommend the squeeze bottle,” she explains.