Do Neti Pots Really Harbor Brain-Eating Amoebas?

It’s true, not using this device correctly can have deadly consequences.

February 16, 2017
woman using neti pot
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Higher rates of cold and flu are being reported from Boston to San Francisco this year, leaving many desperate for relief beyond what they can get from their herbal cough drops and ginger tea. But before you start frantically Googling all of the natural, drug-free ways to squash your cold symptoms, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has an important warning: Be really freakin’ careful if you ever use a neti pot. 

Neti pots, originally from the Ayurvedic medical tradition, are basically little teapots with long spouts that are filled with water and used to clear out your clogged nasal passages—and they've been shown to help alleviate cold and allergy symptoms. But in newly updated guidelines, the FDA warns that improper use of nasal irrigation devices like these can lead to potentially deadly infections caused by little organisms commonly referred to as brain-eating amoebas. Yikes.

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So, what exactly does ‘improper use’ of these devices mean? Namely, using water straight from the tap—which is a major no-no. According to the FDA's website, “tap water contains low levels of organisms—such as bacteria and protozoa, including amoebas—that may be safe to swallow because stomach acid kills them. But in your nose, these organisms can stay alive in nasal passages and cause potentially serious infections."  

Related: 10 Foods That Fight Cold And Flu

How worried do you need to be? While your risk of contracting one of these infections is low—to date, neti pots contaminated with the brain-eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri have only been linked to two deaths in the U.S.—it’s worth being extra cautious if you ever use a neti pot. Here are some expert-approved tips to use your device safely: 

 
  • Always start with a clean, dry neti pot. Experts recommend washing them in a dishwasher with very hot water at least once a week.
  • Only fill your neti pot with one of three types of water: water from your tap that has been boiled for 3 to 5 minutes and then cooled, water from bottles labeled “sterile” or “distilled,” or water that’s passed through a filter specifically designed to trap potentially infectious organisms (they should be labeled “NSF 53” or “NSF 58”).
  • Carefully follow the usage instructions that came with your specific neti pot. Don't just wing it. 

Bottom line: Neti pots are usually safe and effective products when used and cleaned properly. But if you can’t take the time to do that, then this isn’t the cold fix for you.

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