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Here’s the Right Way to Use a Neti Pot

You’ve probably heard that neti pots can help you breathe more easily when you’re congested. And they really can—neti pots, which look like little teapots, are a type of nasal irrigation system that works by using a saline or saltwater solution to flush congested sinuses and clear out allergens and bacteria. They can also be used to hydrate nasal passages when the air is too dry.

Once you’ve talked to your doctor about whether using a neti pot makes sense for your condition, it’s simple to use. You just tilt your head over a sink so your forehead and chin are level, place the spout in your upper nostril as you breathe through your mouth, and pour the saltwater solution so the water drains through the lower nostril, cleaning out your nasal passages. Then you repeat on the other side.

But it’s super-important to make sure you’re using your neti pot correctly. If you don’t, it could actually increase your risk of serious infections. That’s because some water—specifically, untreated tap water—can contain low levels of bacteria and other organisms that aren’t a big deal to drink (your stomach acids will take care of them) but can cause infections in your nasal passages.

To stay safe, you can buy saline solutions specifically made for neti pots, or you can make your own with water that’s been treated properly. If you DIY, the CDC recommends three ways to treat your water:

1. Boil water for one to three minutes, then use once cooled, or buy distilled or sterile water (check the label) in stores. Of the three methods, buying or boiling are the best options.

2. Use a water filter that traps potentially infectious germs. Look for labels that say, “NSF 53,” “NSF 58,” or say “cyst removal” or “cyst reduction.” You can also look out for the phrase “absolute pore size of 1 micron or smaller.”

3. Disinfect water by using chlorine bleach. For full instructions, go here, though be aware that this should be the last option to obtain water for your neti pot and should not be used to produce drinking water.

It’s also crucial to clean your neti pot with treated water. Rinse it with safe water after every use, then let it air dry. You can also clean it with antibacterial soap to disinfect it. And, FYI, you shouldn’t hold on to the same neti pot forever, no matter how well you clean it; replace yours every few months, especially if you use yours frequently.

One last thing to think about when you use a neti pot is the temperature of the water. If you undergo sinus surgery, using cold water in your saline solution could on rare occasions cause bony growths, called paranasal sinus exostoses, to develop in your nasal passages. Stick to room temperature water.

Remember, your neti pot spout is going directly into your germy nostrils. Using it correctly could be the difference between finally getting over that congestion—or suffering through it even longer.

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