Ease allergies with simple salt water and a neti pot

  • By Sharon Salyer Herald Writer
  • Sunday, March 27, 2011 12:01am
  • Life

Neti pots gained fame on Oprah as a natural alternative for dealing with allergies: the little pot that could.

And while the first few uses may feel uncomfortable, neti pots can provide significant relief for allergy sufferers.

“I am a strong, strong proponent of neti pots,” said Elan Keehn, an advanced registered nurse practitioner and naturopathic physician who works at UW Medicine.

Keehn said she tells her patients they need to wash allergens out of their bodies every day.

“I tell them they need to be washing their nasal passages just like they need to brush their teeth,” she said.

For the uninitiated, neti pots look like small teapots. For cleaning the sinuses, a small amount of salt is added to warm water, the head is tilted and gravity does the work.

How much salt is needed depends on the size of the neti pot, but it’s often about a half teaspoon stirred into comfortably warm — not hot — water.

Neti pot use has become more widespread, in part because people find it provides relief from allergies without the use of either prescription or over-the-counter medications.

In addition, neti pots have been featured in several segments of the Oprah show. In one of the first, from 2006, Dr. Mehmet Oz demonstrates the neti pot to a skeptical-looking — at least initially — Oprah.

Jamey Wallace, a naturopathic physician at Bastyr University in Kenmore, said the neti pot is often successful in decreasing allergy symptoms because it works directly on congested tissues.

“The sinus cavities are like balloons connected by a narrow opening, say, a straw,” he said.

When people suffer from allergies, the mucus membranes swell.

The breathing passages become blocked and people can’t breathe through their noses. The saline helps to clear the passages and decrease swelling, Wallace said.

Neti pots are sometimes used in conjunction with herbs prescribed by a naturopathic physician to decrease the swelling.

Blocked sinuses can create problems other than discomfort. They increase the potential for viral or bacterial infections, he said.

So clearing the sinuses can help prevent these secondary problems, Wallace said.

Some people may need to use a neti pot two to three times a day initially, he said, while other might need only a daily or weekly rinse.

Patients with severe allergy symptoms get quick relief from neti pot rinsings, while others take several days or a week or so, Wallace said.

“I think it’s important for people to realize that one dose doesn’t necessarily cure the problem,” Wallace said.

Other factors in a person’s environment, such as allergies to pets or food, can have a significant impact on a patient’s seasonal allergy symptoms, he said, because all the allergic symptoms overlap and can increase the body’s reaction to seasonal allergies.

For all its benefits, there are some conditions when congested patients shouldn’t reach for the neti pot first, Keehn said.

One is if the congestion is so bad the water solution can’t run through the nasal passages. She recommends five minutes of steam inhalation, perhaps with eucalyptus, before using the neti pot.

The other is if the sinuses are too dry and bleed when patients blow their noses.

If use of neti pots creates burning in the nose, it’s probably because not enough salt was used or it wasn’t well mixed with the warm water used in the treatments, she said.

Keehn estimates that about 60 percent of her patients use neti pots to help alleviate seasonal allergies. One of the biggest hurdles for those who don’t use it is just getting people to try it.

“It’s such a foreign feeling,” she said. “You’re pouring water up your nose.”

Keehn said she advises patients to take a few deep breaths and try to relax before beginning the neti pot treatments.

Wallace said many patients tell him they like having an alternative to traditional allergy medications.

“My experience is that it can give tremendous relief,” he said.

How it works

Watch a video demonstrating how to use a neti pot at http://tinyurl.com/netidemonstration.

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