Some people irrigate their nasal passages with a Neti pot and salt water to alleviate sinus infections and colds. A recent tragedy shows these devices, when used improperly, can pose a serious health threat.
CBS News affiliate KIRO reports on a 69-year-old woman from Seattle who was advised by her doctor to rinse her sinuses twice a day to clear up a chronic sinus infection. She later died from a brain-eating amoeba infection that was associated with using filtered tap water in her Neti pot. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only distilled or sterile water should be used for sinus irrigation.
The woman’s trouble began after a month of cleaning her sinuses with unsterile water. A small rash developed on the right side of her nose. Her doctor thought it was rosacea, so he prescribed an ointment. Because the rash persisted, the woman consulted dermatologists, but biopsies didn’t lead to a definitive diagnosis.
After one year, an ominous development occurred. The woman had a seizure, producing shaking on the left side of her body. A CT scan revealed a half-inch mass with unusual characteristics in her brain.
During the next few days, additional scans showed the mass in the brain was enlarging and new lesions were appearing. Her arm and leg had become numb, and her mental status deteriorated. A consulting neuropathologist thought she might have an amoeba infection and prescribed a drug treatment. Despite the intervention, she fell into a coma and died.
Following her death, tests showed the woman was infected with Balamuthia mandrillaris, an amoeba that can travel to the brain and cause a fatal infection. Her doctors believe the infection that originated in the nasal cavity entered the blood stream, where it was taken to the brain.
The CDC said little is known about how the infection is acquired and how it can be prevented. Since 1993, only 70 cases of the amoeba infection have been reported, of which 89 percent were fatal.
The woman tested negative for Naegleria fowleri, a similar amoeba associated with the 2013 death of a Louisiana man who used a Neti pot. Two years earlier, Louisiana health officials warned residents to use only sterilized water in Neti pots after two people died as a result of being exposed to the amoeba when irrigating their nasal passages.
“Improper nasal irrigation has been reported as a method of infection for the comparably insidious amoeba,” the doctors said in the research paper about the Seattle woman. “This precedent led us to suspect the same route of entry for the for the Balamuthia amoeba in our case.”
Due to the difficulty involved in diagnosing the ameba infection, “it is possible that many more cases of Balamuthia have been missed,” the doctors added.
The woman’s case was published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases.
Important Safety Precautions
Neti pots are safe when used correctly, but check with your doctor before you start because they’re contraindicated for people with certain conditions. Use sterile or distilled water, and keep the pot clean and dry when not in use. Experts advise against sharing a Neti pot with another person. If you experience irritation or nosebleeds during use, talk to your doctor before trying it again.
Short-term use of a Neti pot can be beneficial, but one study indicated long-term use may increase the frequency of sinus infections. The authors speculated that prolonged exposure of the nasal cavity to salt solution depletes the protective layer of mucous in the nose.
Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at http://www.alternativemedicinetruth.com. Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.