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Do neti pots promote sinus health?

Ever since Dr. Oz showed Oprah how to use a neti pot in 2007, the devices have been the darlings of the nasal-irrigation world.

Used for eons by practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine, neti pots are small, teapot-shaped vessels from which one empties saline solution (warm water with a bit of salt) into one nostril while leaning over a sink; the water exits from the other nostril, having dribbled through your nasal passages. Sounds gross, but people swear by their neti pot's capacity to reduce nasal congestion and ward off sinus infections. And the medical establishment has come to embrace neti pots as one of several ways to irrigate nasal passages, with doctors recommending their use by people with chronic nasal congestion, sinus infections or allergies.

But recent research presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology earlier this month casts a bit of a pall on the neti pot. Researchers found that people who regularly used the pots for a year and then stopped using them for the following year experienced fewer cases of sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses) when they weren't irrigating their nasal passages than when they were. Though the study was small, tracking just 68 neti-pot users, the difference was notable: The number of sinusitis cases dropped by more than 62 percent when neti-pot use ceased.

The scientists reasoned that daily, long-term use of neti pots can strip the nose of its protective, infection-fighting layer of mucus and other defenses.

It's important not to put too much stock in the findings of a study that, like this one, is not yet published. Still, a lot of people may welcome hearing about it and I'm one of them. I was really gung-ho about my neti pot when I bought it about a year ago. But while the warm water rinsing my nasal passages felt good and cleansing, I noticed that one of my sinuses kept feeling worse the more I neti-potted. I rarely use it now, and when I do, it's with trepidation.

So, I've fallen out of love with my neti pot. I know scads of people who still swear by theirs. What about you? Register your opinion about your neti pot by taking today's poll.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  December 11, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Alternative and Complementary Medicine , General Health , Is That Right? , Popular Procedures , Yoga  
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A billion years ago an allergist recommended I use a baby bulb ear syringe to squirt salt water up my nose when I had a cold or felt stuffy. I've been doing it ever since. I am positive it helped with one sinus infection I had, but I had another one once that required antibiotics. I'm not prone to infections (those two incidences are the only two I've had in 40 years), but I tend to have a drier nose that most people, so mucus dries in my nasal passages and feels crummy. The salt water helps clear that out and moisten things up. Then I use a q-tip to put vaseline up there to keep things moist for a while. I guess it is like everything--works well for some people, not so well for others.

Posted by: janedoe5 | December 11, 2009 8:43 AM | Report abuse

My ENT vetoed the use of a neti pot on the basis that it introduces an outside substance, which 99% of users cannot and do not make sterile, into an environment that is not intended to be irrigated on a regular basis. He said to use an isotonic saline nasal spray, which only reaches the lower portions of the nasal passage, which are intended to be exposed to air and moisture.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | December 11, 2009 10:12 AM | Report abuse

I use my Neti Pot a couple of times a week and I really like it. before this I'd get terrible sinus headaches because of the pressure and my nose was always stuffy but nothing was actually in there. The pressure is gone and I can breathe easier.

I might start using less frequently but I'll keep my neti pot. I'm a relatively new users because the thought of using it grossed me out but it was this or a cat scan to see what was going on with my sinuses and I didn't want to deal with the radiation.

Posted by: archers44 | December 11, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

I use mine occasionally, and it works for me. I think daily, or even twice daily, would not do me well. In addition, I tend to get earaches with sinus problems, and the neti pot can add to the fluid accumulation in my ear.

Posted by: SuperiorityComplex | December 11, 2009 11:10 AM | Report abuse

I used mine when I was pregnant and had a horrific cold/sinus infection. It helped a little but not much. I've sinced only used it once and again, it helped me loosen up the stuff in my nose but not completely.

Posted by: dckt | December 11, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Like janedoe5, I, too, was told by an allergist at age 12 to irrigate my sinuses with a syringe and sterile saltwater when my nose was stuffed up due to allergies. Although yucky, it worked better than any nasal spray. The syringe stayed at my parents when I moved out on my own, so I stopped the practice. I recently starting doing nasal rinses again. I use a bottle for this purpose purchased from the drug store, not a neti pot. After 4-5 years of using Nasonex for nasal allergies, my nose always feels dry and I have lost some of my sense of smell and get periodic nosebleeds. I quit Nasonex to let my nose heal and do the rinses *as needed.* They soothe my nasal passages and ease the iritiation I feel in my nose when my allergies are acting up. I don't know if my nose will ever be back to normal, but rinsing beats using the steroid nasal sprays.

Posted by: 1950snoopy | December 11, 2009 12:20 PM | Report abuse

I think WashingtonDame makes sense. Areas that don't naturally get washed out probably aren't evolved to benefit from it.

I compare it to vaginal douching. The body area has a natural design and for the most part takes care of itself without a lot of outside flushing.

Posted by: RedBird27 | December 11, 2009 1:05 PM | Report abuse

As an Allergy Parent of an Allergy Child...

Sure Neti Pots provide temporary relief..

But never forget....

Today's Child Allergy MARCH = Tomorrow's Allergic ASTHMA > UnLess...

that for MANY Allergy is a LifeTime, Progressive, Cumulative, Chronic Inflammatory, Auto-Immune DISEASE > Which leads to a Lifetime Consumption of MED's > Which Only Mask Symptoms > Leaving your Disease InTact > Progressing / Exacerbating > Taking you on a Lifetime Slippery Slope of multiple "Allergy Driven" diseases, recalcitrant Health Issues, Poor Self Esteem & compromised Quality of Life.

Thus said > The KEY to STOPPING the Progression of your Child's Allergy MARCH to possibly Allergic ASTHMA Begins ASAP As Possible with Early Allergy Blood Testing and ImmunoTherapy Neutralization via Self Administered / Drug FREE / Custom Formulated Immuno-Allergy DROPs ( Think Allergy SHOTs But No Ouch ).

If YOU suspect that Your Child's Allergy MARCH has begun > There is a At-Home / FDA Approved / No Prescription Needed > Finger Stick > Allergy Blood Test ( ) > Which will Test YOUR Child for the Top Ten allergens that Signal the Presence / Emergence of Allergy MARCH.

Following FDA Approved results > You and your Primary Dr. can move confidentely with Expanded Envir Allergy Blood Testing and Immuno-Allergy DROPs .

It is NEVER to Late to STOP the Progression of your Child's Allergy MARCH to possibly Allergic ASTHMA.


STOP Medicating SYMPTOMs ...

Allergy Parents > Take Anti-Allergy Action NOW with your Allergy Child.

Allergy MARCH = Allergy Parents = Allergy INFANT / Birth > Eczema > G.I. / Colic > Ear > Respiratory > Rhinitis Issues > Allergic ASTHMA !

Posted by: stephenhauer | December 11, 2009 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Neti user here -- but only when I'm feeling like I might be a little clogged from an impending (or arrived) cold, or having worked in a dusty atmosphere for a while. For that, it's great. Would never use it every day; for me, it's for when there's a problem. But it's GREAT for that.

Posted by: Gunga2009 | December 11, 2009 1:51 PM | Report abuse

It makes sense that it shouldn't be used long term, but I've seen family members get relief when they used it on a short-term basis in response to specific symptoms.

Posted by: Katya2 | December 11, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

I've had my neti pot for about two years and use it when I have nasal congestion (often in winter due to the heat's being on) or postnasal drip. I don't have significant respiratory allergies or frequent sinus infections. I have found that a hypertonic solution (e.g., two packets of SinuCleanse in 8 oz. of water) is too drying to use regularly, and I resort to it only when I have a cold. For simple postnasal drip relief, I use an isotonic solution (1 packet of SinuCleanse), and that seems to do the job w/o irritating my sinuses. I would be interested in knowing whether the neti pot users in the study were using a hypertonic or isotonic solution.

Posted by: ademarsay | December 11, 2009 4:34 PM | Report abuse

A study of 68 people warrants any amount of print? Please. This sounds like another case of western medicine poo-pooing anything it can't prescribe a pill for. The fact that it may be detrimental to some, like any other treatment, is hardly a reason to discount it wholesale. Case in point: penicillin. Some people are allergic and can die from taking it. But how many millions of lives has it saved? Like anything else, it's not for everybody. It has worked for me for a little over a year now and I have not had to take any medicine for sinus headaches since I started using it.

Posted by: jennybird1 | December 11, 2009 7:48 PM | Report abuse

I use my Waterpik as a neti pot (with an optional attachment). Love it. I particularly like to use it after I drink alcohol, which tends to make me congested.

Posted by: davidwg46 | December 11, 2009 9:57 PM | Report abuse

For over ten years I suffered from a chronic cycle of sinus infections in which I would be sick for 2 weeks and on antibiotics for 2 weeks, then OK for 2 weeks, then back to sickness and antibiotics. My file at the doctor's office was about 4 inches thick. I had allergy tests and allergy shots with no improvement. Then one day, someone gave me a weight-loss tape called The Zone. It recommended a diet that was much lower in carbs than the average diet. I went on the diet to lose some weight and after a few months, I realized that my sinus infections had become much less frequent and much less severe. Apparently I was overdosing on carbs and that screwed up my immune system. However, the diet did not completely cure my sinus problems. That was cured by first using a neti pot daily and then I graduated to an Ethicare power washer which is similar to a Water Pik. The power washer is literally "up your nose with a rubber hose." The power wash is much more effective than the neti pot because it enables you to rinse the soft palate area between the nasal passages and the throat where sore throats usually start. Now I only get an infection 2 or 3 times a year and they are easily controlled. No more clogged infected sinuses! No more antibiotics!

Posted by: CALDEM | December 12, 2009 12:27 AM | Report abuse

I use a SinuPulse which is a fancey water pik type pulsating irrigator but designed specifically for nasal irrigation. I use to use a water pik with an attachment like others have commented but it broke down and was really noisy. The SinuPulse can be used as a pulsating stream to cleanse or a spray mist to moisturize and I love it. It cleanses much better than the neti pots while helping to restore tha natural ciliary function whicg perhaps the neti nasal rinsing doesnt. Since using it I dont get nearly the infections or colds.

Posted by: rhammond2009 | December 17, 2009 11:46 AM | Report abuse

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