Disease & Illness

This Woman Died After Using Untreated Tap Water In A Neti Pot—Here’s What You Need To Know

Yikes! This is scary.

Many people swear by neti pots and other nasal irrigation devices to ease sinus infection and cold symptoms. But a recent report of a woman dying after regularly using a neti pot highlights the dangers of improper nasal flushing.

A Seattle woman began using a neti pot after her doctor advised nasal irrigation to help with her chronic sinus infection. She used Brita filtered water in the teapot-style container to flush out her nostrils.

A month later, she developed sores on her nose that doctors misdiagnosed as rosacea. The sores didn’t go away and about a year later, she had a seizure. Brain scans showed what looked to be a tumor but turned out to be a brain infection, which ultimately caused the woman’s death.

neti pot photo
Flickr | frances1972

The woman had contracted the brain infection from Balamuthia mandrillaris, a rare amoeba that was likely in the tap water she used in her neti pot.

Since the Balamuthia amoeba was identified in 1986, there have been just about 200 diagnosed cases of this type of Balamuthia-caused infection globally, around 70 of them in the U.S. While the rate is low, when one contracts the infection, it is almost always fatal.

This isn’t the first time neti pot water misuse has led to deaths and resulting headlines. There have been other reported cases of infections by more common “brain-eating” amoeba than Balamuthia mandrillaris.

What should you do to stay safe using a neti pot?

When using a neti pot or similar nasal irrigation system, only use distilled water, pre-boiled water, ultrafiltered water or a saline solution. Neti pot makers warn against using tap water in their directions unless the water’s been run through a “0.2 micron filter.”

While the Seattle woman used Brita-filtered water, that filtration system wasn’t strong enough.

In its guidelines, the Center for Disease Control adds that disinfecting tap water with bleach is a fourth option for use in nasal irrigation, though pre-boiled, properly filtered or distilled water are preferred.

neti pot relief
Flickr | harmonli

It’s also worth noting that if you go with the boiled water option you should boil the water for three to five minutes and then cool it to room temperature before use. Don’t scorch your nose with hot water!

You should also make sure to clean neti pots according to the manufacturer’s instructions and let them dry completely.

Did you know you shouldn’t use untreated tap water in a neti pot?