Neti pots are well known for easing nasal congestion, but if they’re used incorrectly the results can be fatal.
Most NHS ear, nose and throat (ENT) departments see Neti pots as a safe and effective way to tackle blockages. They’re considered as a ‘cheap, safe and acceptable’ alternative to nasal sprays, which contain steroids or antihistamines, according to Cochrane research group.
You can usually grab one for around £5 from a high street chemist, and they’re recommended for those who have a constantly runny or blocked nose.
But last year, a woman in Seattle died after contracting a very rare condition called amoebic meningitis as a result of using the pot incorrectly. Only cooled, boiled water should be used, but the 69-year-old had opted for tap water instead.
The water happened to contain a very small amoeba called Naegleria fowleri, which thrives in water. It had travelled through the woman’s sinuses into the brain, where it consumed healthy brain cells.
The symptoms of amoebic meningitis can happen within days, and include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting and finally, various behavioural disturbances.
It’s important that those using neti pots always use sterile water, as amoebic meningitis is fatal in over 90 per cent of cases. This event follows two similar cases, where both died from the disease.
Speaking to GoodtoKnow, Honorary Secretary Professor Carl Philpott and Assistant Honorary Secretary Mr San Sunkaraneni at ENT UK, the professional membership body representing ENT surgery and related specialities, highlighted that water should be properly sterilised.
They said: ‘We generally steer patients to the Neil Med sinus bottle but the neti pot is gravity dependent. Essentially you pour the saline into one nostril and allow it to run through and out of the other nostril by tipping the head.
‘Ensure that water is sterilised properly each time the saline solution is made up and don’t tip the head back otherwise you’ll start drowning!’
Despite the fact these incidents happened in the US, UK residents should also ensure they’re using the pots properly. Our water supplies are treated with chlorine, which can kill the amoeba, though some have doubted how effective this really is.
Whilst the risks from a correctly used pot are low, millions of people don’t follow the instructions properly, which puts them at risk. In fact, a 2012 study conducted by the University of Alberta found that almost half of neti pot owners used tap water, and not cooled, boiled water.
Out of the 100 people surveyed, 65 per cent found it ‘too inconvenient’ to use cooled, boiled water.
Researchers have since warned: ‘The extremely rare, but typically fatal, risk of meningitis makes this a potential health hazard.’