It is very likely that you have experienced the discomfort of a stuffed-up nose, and you are not alone. Approximately 10% to 20% of the global population suffers from allergic rhinitis1 which is an allergic reaction causing itchy watery eyes, increased mucous production (runny nose), and nasal congestion. Allergic rhinitis is a major culprit that is causing world-wide congestion!
Having a stuffy nose can be very uncomfortable and disruptive to your day so I don’t blame anyone for trying to get rid of it, but how do you do that? Well, when you search the internet for “stuffy nose cure” you are likely to stumble across the recommendation of rinsing the sinuses with a Neti Pot. The Neti Pot can be found as a treatment option for congestion on WebMD, Wikipedia, and it has even been featured on a segment of Oprah with Dr. Oz in 2007. So now we know that the Neti Pot is popular, but what is it?
What is a Neti Pot?
The Neti Pot is a nasal saline irrigation system used to reduce sinus pain and pressure. It can be a plastic or ceramic container that is shaped like a teapot or a genie lamp to easily pour a salt and water solution directly into the nasal cavity2. It is commonly used for allergies, the common cold, nasal stuffiness, post-nasal surgery, pressure and nasal irritation due to dust or pollen. The solution provides relief of these symptoms by flushing out excess mucus. Neti Pots usually come with single use packets of a salt mixture that you mix into water.
How does it work?
The Neti Pot uses a saline rinse that is flushed through the nasal cavity when needed – usually once or twice a day but can be used up to every two hours to resolve symptoms3. It uses the flow of gravity to make the saline solution flow into one nostril, through the sinus cavity and out of the other3. Yes, this sounds a little gross but as the saline solution is flushed through the nasal cavity, it cleans the nasal tissue, improves mucous clearance and decreases both nasal swelling and inflammation4,5. Sometimes different saline concentrations are recommended: an isotonic saline solution (usually using only 1 packet of saline) has a lower salt content and a hypertonic saline (usually using 2 packets of saline) has a higher concentration.
What does the evidence say?
When used as a single treatment in some studies, nasal saline irrigation helped improve symptoms and also improved the quality of life for patients6. It has also been shown that combining a nasal saline irrigation with an oral antihistamine (used for allergies) significantly improved quality of life when someone was experiencing nose-related allergy symptoms6,7. However, when comparing nasal saline irrigation to prescription intranasal steroids, the nasal irrigation was not as effective as the steroid in improving congestion and nasal symptoms6.
Some studies show that a hypertonic saline solution is more effective than an isotonic solution while others say they are equally effective6,8. Regardless, there is agreement that nasal saline irrigation is relatively safe and shown to improve the symptoms and quality of life for patients experiencing symptoms of a stuffy or runny nose related to allergies and other ailments6.
Research in this area is currently ongoing to decide which specific conditions can be helped with a Neti Pot, what type of solution works best, and which product is the most effective. That being said, current evidence suggests that the Neti Pot is a safe and cost-effective treatment option for symptoms of nasal congestion and a runny nose.
Are there any safety concerns?
The NetiPot is deemed safe, appears to have very few associated side effects and can be used during pregnancy4,6. Adverse effects include ear fullness, stinging/burning sensation inside the nose, and nosebleeds8. However, these minor side effects were reported in less than 10% of patients8. Some users experience discomfort and unease with use, but these may be reduced or resolved by ensuring proper use of the product. To avoid side effects and infection, it is very important to use distilled, sterile, or boiled water that has cooled to body temperature8.
Although the Neti Pot doesn’t sound that attractive, it is a safe and relatively inexpensive therapy that can be used to improve symptoms of stuffy nose and congestion from allergies, colds, and is also safe during pregnancy4,6. A Neti Pot is more effective than using nothing and works well in combination with an antihistamine to provide a greater relief if you have allergies6. It is worth giving this product a try if you have nasal congestion as the benefits outweigh the discomfort, possible side effects and cost6.
TIP: It is a good idea to use a dishwasher safe NetiPot or clean the product after each use!
Brandon Christensen, Bianca Maginnis Castro, Carly Maxwell, Dana Moynihan, Tatianne Pomerleau-Mahe, Vincent Spurrell, Alysha Young
Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences
University of Alberta
Edited and Reviewed by the Health Aisle Team
- Stewart, M., Ferguson, B., & Fromer, L. (2010). Epidemiology and burden of nasal congestion. International Journal of General Medicine, 3 p. 37.
- NeilMed Pharmaceuticals NetiPot. In NeilMed Pharmaceuticals. Retrieved fromhttp://www.neilmed.com/can/netipot.phpcom. (2014).
- SinuCleanse – Gentle and Soothing Sinus Relief. Retrieved from http://www.sinucleanse.com/product/neti.htm [Accessed: 10 Apr 2014].
- Lohia, S., Schlosser, R. J., & Soler, Z. Nasal saline for allergic rhinitis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2013.
- Rabago, D., Zgierska, A., et al. Saline nasal irrigation for upper respiratory conditions. American Family Physician. 2009; 80(10): 1117-1119.
- Harvey, R., Hannan, S., Badia, L. & Scadding, G. Nasal saline irrigations for the symptoms of chronic rhinosinusitis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2016
- Khianey, R. & Oppenheimer, J. Is nasal saline irrigation all it is cracked up to be? Annals Of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. 2012; 109(1):20-28.
- Wang, Y., Ku, M., Sun, H. & Lue, K. Efficacy of nasal irrigation in the treatment of acute sinusitis in atopic children. Journal Of Microbiology, Immunology And Infection, 2012;47(1): 63-69.