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Health Answers

Do neti pots really help with colds and sinus infections?

By Courtney Humphries
August 1, 2011

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Q. Do neti pots really help with colds and sinus infections?

A. A neti pot is a simple teacup-like device that has its roots in traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine, but has gained popularity in the West. A neti pot rinses out nasal passages; the cup is filled with saline solution and then poured slowly into one nostril with the head tilted to the side, allowing the liquid to pass out of the other nostril. You can then repeat the treatment on the other nostril.

Robert Saper, director of integrative medicine in Boston Medical Center’s Department of Family Medicine, says that a neti pot is one of the few traditional therapies that has found its way into modern medical practice. Several studies have been conducted on neti pots, and overall findings are positive. Saper says there’s good evidence that they can help people with chronic sinus infections find relief and reduce their dependence on medications. There’s some evidence that they also ease symptoms of colds and allergies.

The technical term for a neti pot is “saline nasal irrigation,’’ and Ellen Weinberg, an ear, nose, and throat specialist at Cambridge Health Alliance, points out that it’s just one of the ways you can flush out nasal passages. Some people balk at pouring liquid in their nose, and they can opt to buy saline squirt bottles or drops at a pharmacy, or create their own system using a bulb syringe.

Saline solution can be purchased from a drugstore, or made at home. Weinberg recommends mixing one teaspoon of non-iodized salt with eight ounces of warm water for an “isotonic’’ solution, similar to the salt concentration in our own bodies. Increasing the salt by another half teaspoon or more will create a “hypertonic’’ solution, which she says not only clears out nasal secretions, pollen, and other irritants, but “can actually shrink nasal membranes and relieve nasal congestion.’’ Too much salt will just sting.

In general, Weinberg says, flushing out the nose with saline is not harmful. The only caveat: a neti pot can be a useful addition to your self-care but shouldn’t replace getting medical treatment for a serious infection.

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