As the colder weather settles in, cold and flu season is upon us. Many of us will find ourselves battling sniffles, congestion and runny noses. However, experts warn there we should take extra care before turning to the popular neti pot for relief.
Believed to date back as far as ancient India, the neti pot is a small device that looks similar to a teapot, used to irrigate the nasal passages. Today, a number of alternative health companies have picked up their own version of the product. As the self-professed ‘#1 brand in North America’, Himalayan Chandra has built their business on the production and sale of the neti pot since 1972.
On their website, they describe the device as “a time-honored, doctor-recommended, and clinically tested way to cleanse the nasal passages.” They promote the device not only to manage the symptoms of colds, sinus problems, and allergies but also as an ongoing solution to avoid the build-up of mucus, reducing inflammation and allowing for freer breathing in its users. However, a recent news story has drawn attention to the potential risks that many users overlook.
Last February a 69-year-old woman from Seattle was rushed into brain surgery after being admitted to the emergency department at Swedish Medical Center due to a seizure. Early CT scans revealed what appeared to be a tumor, however, what was later discovered was far more disturbing. A large number of brain-eating amoeba were found in the tissues of her brain, which lead to an ongoing study to determine the cause.
The case study has now been published in the International Journal of Infection Disease, revealing a startling story. Having suffered from a sinus infection, the woman turned to the use of a neti pot, as recommended by her doctor. However, rather than using the recommended boiled/sterilized water or distilled water, she filled the neti pot with tap water. Despite allegedly filtering the water through a Brita water purifier, a number of organisms still remained in the water. These organisms are safe for consumption when we are drinking the water, but incredibly dangerous if introduced into the nasal passages.
While these cases are not common, with most people many people suffering nothing more than nasal irritation, the woman’s extreme case highlights the risks users are taking when they choose to ignore the safety precautions.
“When I operated on this lady, a section of her brain about the size of a golf ball was bloody mush,” described Dr. Charles Cobbs, a neurosurgeon at Swedish that was involved in the surgery to The Seattle Times. “There were these amoeba all over the place just eating brain cells. We didn’t have any clue what was going on, but when we got the actual tissue, we could see it was the amoeba.”
Despite the best efforts of the doctors and surgeons at Swedish Medical Center, the woman’s case was too severe, and she died approximately a month post surgery. Her story has gone viral in an effort to warn neti pot users across the country. It only takes a few extra minutes to ensure that safety precautions are followed.
As Eric A. Mann, MD, Ph.D., a doctor at the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) assures, “These nasal rinse devices – which include bulb syringes, squeeze bottles, and battery-operated pulsed water devices – are usually safe and effective products when used and cleaned properly.”