Can Kids Use Neti Pots?

When the box of tissues just isn't cutting it anymore, a neti pot could be the secret to giving your child some relief from congestion and dry nasal passages.

Woman preparing to use neti pot at home

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It may seem like your child is always sniffling from common colds, the flu, or seasonal allergies. If the box of tissues just isn't cutting it anymore, a neti pot could be the secret to giving your kiddo some relief.

"The neti pot can help clear nasal passages that are blocked by viral upper respiratory infections or seasonal allergies," says Sanghamitra M. Misra, M.D., M.Ed., chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Integrative Medicine. Neti pots are safe when used with proper precautions, and they're generally recommended for those 2 and older. Here's what parents need to know about the handy teapot-shaped nasal irrigation device.

What Is a Neti Pot?

Though it may look like something from your child's tea set, the neti pot is actually a device with roots in centuries-old Ayurvedic traditions of nasal irrigation. To use, the neti pot is filled with a salt-based saline solution. (Plain water can irritate the nasal passages, says the Cleveland Clinic.) Then the neti pot's tip is inserted into a user's nostril, allowing the fluid to pass through their nasal passage and out the other nostril.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says nasal rinsing can remove dust and pollen that trigger allergies. It can also loosen thick mucus that causes congestion from illnesses.

Reasons to Use a Neti Pot

Neti pots are popular for treating the following symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Sinus congestion
  • Colds
  • Allergies
  • Dry nasal passages

How to Use a Neti Pot

Neti pots are widely available at drugstores. Wondering how to use the nasal irrigation device? Here are some step-by-step instructions. Remember to ensure that your hands and your child's hands are clean and that the neti pot is clean and dry, before using it.

  1. Prepare the saline rinse according to the manufacturer's instructions. Most neti pots come with saline packets that you mix with water, but you can also make the saline rinse yourself. Never use unfiltered tap water with your neti pot, as this can introduce bacteria that can cause life-threatening infections. Always opt for distilled or sterile water instead. Another safe alternative is tap water that's been boiled for 3 to 5 minutes and cooled, says the FDA.
  2. Lean over a sink or shower, and tilt your head to one side.
  3. Breathing through your mouth, insert the neti pot's spout into your top nostril so that the liquid drains through the bottom nostril. Blow your nose.
  4. Repeat on the other side, tilting your head in the opposite direction and pouring the liquid through the other nostril. Blow your nose again.
  5. When you're done, clean the neti pot with safe water. Dry it completely.

Repeat these steps one to three times per day as needed. Consult with your child's doctor for more guidelines.

Do Neti Pots Work for Kids?

Many experts agree that nasal saline irrigation (NSI) can be highly beneficial for children and adults with a range of symptoms—and there are plenty of studies to back it up. For instance, a 2014 Italian survey of 860 primary care pediatricians found that most recommend NSI for the prevention and treatment of upper respiratory tract problems in preschoolers. And in 2009, a randomized controlled trial showed that nasal irrigation is an "effective adjunctive treatment for pediatric acute sinusitis" and can improve allergic-related symptoms.

Despite the discomfort that some users may experience while using a neti pot, there are numerous benefits, adds Dilawar Khokhar, M.D., who specializes in pediatric allergies. "The pros include improvement in nasal symptoms and a reduction in cough; often this is because postnasal drip drives cough," he says.

Dr. Khokhar also notes that neti pots can help decrease the use over-the-counter medications while allowing better absorption of nasal medicines, partly because the rinse cleans the mucus membranes. Still more benefits include reduced inflammation and improved moisture of the nasal passages.

Are Neti Pots Safe?

Perhaps you've heard horror stories about neti pots infecting users with brain-eating amoeba—specifically a germ called Naegleria fowleri. This potential problem is extremely rare, and it's tied to the water used for the rinse and the cleanliness of the neti pot.

"Tap water should not be used as it may contain small amounts of bacteria or protozoa that can cause life-threatening infections," says Dr. Misra. "Caregivers who choose to use tap water may bring tap water to a rolling boil for 5 minutes and cool the water until it is lukewarm for safe use." You can store this boiled water in a clean, closed container for up to 24 hours, according to the FDA.

As another safe alternative, you can buy distilled or sterile water for use in the neti pot. The FDA says "water passed through a filter designed to trap potentially infectious organisms" also works.

Make sure to sterilize your neti pot between uses. As an additional precaution, replace your nasal irrigation device every couple of months, says Dr. Khokhar.

When Can Kids Start Using a Neti Pot?

It's also important to consider your child's age before using a neti pot. Most experts—along with the FDA—say that children older than 2 can use the device with a pediatrician's approval. But those guidelines may differ for immune-compromised or immune-suppressed children.

"There is no universally agreed upon age to start using nasal saline irrigation," says Dr. Khokhar, noting that some studies have looked at performing nasal irrigation in children as young as 6 months of age. "The rationale here is that at 6 months of age, infants have some cough and breathing reflexes which can help to protect the airway in the event that some of the liquid goes into the lower airway." Other experts recommend waiting until the child is old enough to assist or perform the rinse themselves. Talk to your pediatrician for specific guidelines.

Another thing to consider is tolerance to the neti pot, adds Dr. Khokhar. "Many young children do not like the feeling of a nasal rinse and thus will not allow the parent or caregiver to perform the rinse. As children reach adolescence and teenage years, they are better able to tolerate and perform the nasal rinse."

Alternatives to Neti Pots

Neti pots aren't the only way to use nasal irritation with your child, so you may want to consider other methods. "For children younger than 2 years, or older children who cannot tolerate a neti pot, caregivers can use nasal saline drops followed by suction with a bulb syringe or blowing the nose to mimic some of the effects of the neti pot," says Dr. Misra.

Dr. Khokhar also recommends nasal saline spray, Cromolyn nasal spray, or, if allergies are a concern, over-the-counter antihistamines and nasal steroid sprays. Your pediatrician can advise you on the proper course of action for your child.

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  1. Nasal saline irrigation in preschool children: A survey of attitudes and prescribing habits of primary care pediatricians working in northern Italy. Ital J Pediatr. 2014.

  2. Efficacy of nasal irrigation in the treatment of acute sinusitis in children. Int J Pediatr Otorhinolaryngol. 2009.

  3. Paediatric nasal irrigation: The "fencing" method. Eur Ann Otorhinolaryngol Head Neck Dis. 2021.

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