Nasal rinsing safety tips you need to know

A senior woman administers nasal solution to her sinuses using a nasal nebulizer. Text overlay reads "Nasal rinsing safety tips you need to know"

 

When it comes to relieving sinus and allergy symptoms like nasal congestion and irritation, nasal rinsing is a common at-home treatment sufferers turn to. However, if you’ve heard the recent news highlighting the risk of brain eating amoebas in tap water, you may be feeling uncertain about the practice. But how likely is it to happen? The good news is you can find comfort in significantly lowering your risks — with the right safety precautions.

Are sinus rinses safe?

When performed safely, nasal irrigation is widely regarded as a safe method to rinse your sinuses. A commonly recommended therapy by medical professionals, it has become a standard first line of defense against the airborne irritants and allergens that can lead to sinus infections, allergy flare-ups, and other upper respiratory conditions.

Sufferers can feel comfortable with this practice knowing it can be administered by a variety of devices, including neti pots, sinus rinse bottles, and even powered devices like nasal nebulizers.

Dangerous — and even fatal — outcomes occur when unsafe solutions are used to perform these treatments. Nasal rinsing-related death is extremely rare, and in the examined cases, has been linked to using tap water in irrigation devices.

What type of water should I use for nasal rinsing?

“Safe” water for nasal irrigation refers to water that has been treated to remove harmful organisms like bacteria and amoebas. According to the CDC, these waters include:

  • Commercially available distilled or sterile water.
  • Boiled and cooled tap water — boiled for 1-3 minutes, depending on your area.
  • Water that has been passed through a filter specially designed to catch infectious organisms — guidance on choosing such a filter can be found on the CDC website.
Educational chart. Images in background include water bottle pouring into a clear glass on one side, and magnified human nose on the other side. Text blocks read: What kind of water is safest for nasal rinsing? Distilled water, sterile water, boiled and cooled water, filtered water* Some filters have been specifically designed to catch infectious organisms. Guidance on choosing such a filter can be found on the CDC website.

Why is tap water safe to drink, but not to rinse my sinuses?

Most American communities benefit from standardized water treatment processes that ultimately make the water out of our taps safe for consumption. While filtration and disinfection are components of this process, depending on the area, there are a variety of challenges that can lead to inconsistencies and contamination.

When tiny organisms find their way into our tap water, the stomach acid in our digestive systems is enough to kill them upon consumption. However, the nasal cavity does not offer this same protection, allowing these contaminants to stay alive in the nasal passages and lead to adverse health outcomes, including naegleria fowleri and acanthamoeba infection.

Though the chances of getting these infections from tap water vary, reported cases related to sinus rinsing with tap water remains low compared to exposures to untreated water systems like lakes, ponds, and reservoirs.

Does distilled water go bad?

Commercially packaged distilled water does not spoil if stored properly. Sealed and uncontaminated bottled distilled water should not contain any contaminants; it should last for 2-3 years.

The safest way to store distilled water after opening is to keep it away from heat, sunlight and open air. Minimize contact with contaminants by tightly closing the bottle after use. Storing opened distilled water in the fridge can help minimize bacteria growth.

Young blonde adult woman pinches the bridge of her nose. A text box above her head reads: Why is tap water safe to drink, but not to rinse my sinuses? A box below reads: When tiny organisms find their way into our tap water, the stomach acid in our digestive systems is enough to kill them upon consumption. However, the nasal cavity does not offer this same protection.

How can I flush my nose safely?

Ultimately, safety and comfort should be the main goals of sinus washing. Your first priority should be to use a nasal-safe solution. These can include:

  • Nasal saline solution
  • Nasally-delivered medication; over-the-counter, prescribed by your doctor, or compounded by a specialty pharmacist
  • Nasal-safe moisturizing solution

There are also certain precautions you can take to practice safe sinus rinsing.

Opt for commercially-prepared nasal solutions

Nasal saline solution comes in all kinds of preparations; saline ampoules, saline packets, and different concentrations of saline are all options you may want to consider. Choosing a commercially-mixed solution can provide some peace of mind about the safety of your solution, as well as the salt concentration you need for symptom relief.

Practice proper hygiene and device maintenance

Wash and dry your hands prior to treatment and only handle medical devices and solutions with clean hands. After each treatment, make sure to properly clean the device and leave it to dry completely before your next use.

Most nasal irrigation devices will require maintenance to keep them running smoothly. Some devices may only require a few replacement parts periodically; others may not be intended for long-term use and require replacement every few months.

Follow the directions provided by the manufacturer and your provider

Using any medical device outside of its intended purpose can pose serious risks. Be sure to follow any age restrictions outlined by the manufacturer, and refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines or your healthcare provider for best practices.

While some sufferers may experience discomfort learning a new technique, pain should never be overlooked. For instance, ear pain is a common problem sufferers tend to encounter, however, the causes of this symptom can vary. If you experience prolonged pain as a result of sinus rinsing, consult with your general physician, ENT, allergist, or pharmacist before continuing treatment.

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