Neti Pot

I get two very different reactions when I recommend a neti pot to my patients for their sinus problems. They either say “Yes, I love it. I’m already doing it,” or “I think I’ve seen some pictures of those. You’re not going to get me to do that.”

I sympathize with the skeptics. I was one of them. It didn’t seem like a good idea to put water up your nose. It doesn’t actually feel like drowning, but you might imagine it would. I have made it a point to try as many techniques as I can before I recommend them to my patients, and I am often glad I did. Take, for example, the Warming Sock Treatment. I would never have imagined that I would actually like wearing wet socks to bed. Now I recommend it all the time!

The neti pot is no different. The first time I tried it myself I was thinking “why am I doing this?” It wasn’t nearly as awful as I first imagined it and I will often whip it out when I feel congestion coming on.

As a naturopathic doctor, I try to use the least invasive interventions first. The first level of intervention is what we call “removing the obstacles to cure.” What this really means is that if there is something directly causing a problem, find out how to eliminate it. This is most easily illustrated by looking at seasonal allergies. Springtime brings lots of pollen floating on the wind. The least invasive way of dealing with allergies to this pollen is to remove the pollen from your nose. How? By flushing with water. The same can be done with other environmental allergens like cat dander, smoke, air pollution, etc. Neti pots can also be beneficial when you’re sick and your sinuses are full of snot. You can’t breathe, and this causes you to be unable to sleep. Without sleeping you can’t heal. So the solution is to remove some of that excess congestion. The warming sock treatment is a great treatment for nasal congestion. When I’m sick I’ll do both.

Neti pots are available at most health food stores and many drug stores (now that Oprah has talked about them on her show). There are a variety of shapes and sizes but they all do the same thing. The most obvious difference is that some have a sealed compartment for the water which allows you to exert pressure by squeezing. Others are open and use only the force of gravity to pull the water though the nasal passages.


  • Mix a solution of about 8 oz. of warm water and ½ tsp. of salt and pour it into the neti pot.
  • Tie your hair back if its long.
  • Stand over the sink and look down at the faucet (this puts your head at a slight angle).
  • Place the neti pot’s spout against one nostril firmly enough that it is sealed and no water will leak around the edges (breathe in and out through our mouth).
  • Now, rotate your head as if you were trying to look over your shoulder. Turn your head in the direction of the neti pot.
  • The force of gravity will cause the water in the pot to fill your nostril, then trickle back into your nasal cavity and come around to the other side. If you start to feel water trickle down your throat you haven’t tipped your forehead forward enough.
  • Slowly let the entire pot drain through your nose. When done, refill and do the other side.
  • Blow your nose (gently!) to get rid of excess water and mucus.
  • This can be repeated 2-3 times daily when congestion is bad.

If this seems confusing, YouTube has many, many videos. Some show you good tips on how to do it, others on how NOT to do it.

Other Notes:

  • You want the solution to be about the same temperature as your body. It shouldn’t feel either warm or cold when you dip your finger in it.
  • Use non-iodized salt or sea salt so there are no anti-caking additives in it.
  • If you find the solution stings you haven’t added enough salt. On days that your nose is really swollen, you can double the salt to create a hypertonic solution. This helps pull out fluid and reduces swelling.
  • Sometimes it may take a few seconds for the water to make its way through your nose. Be patient and stick with it.
  • Depending on the shape of your neti pot, you may need to tip it as the solution begins to run low.
  • A bulb syringe can be used in place of the neti pot. Make sure not to put too much pressure on the bulb when filling your nose with water.
  • An alternative for babies or toddlers is to place 2 – 10 drops (depending on the age of the child) of the saline solution in each nostril and suck it back out with a bulb syringe.

This treatment is often enough to relieve seasonal allergies without resorting to decongestants and anti-histamines. I also find that for people who are prone to sinus infections it works very well for prevention.

You may read about various other additives. I find that most of the time a little salt is all that’s necessary. I may prescribe certain other additives depending on the patient’s history and symptoms.

What a great way to stay out of the doctor’s office … and away from the medicine cabinet!

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