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Allergies Health Center

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Sinus Infections Linked to Nasal Washing

Using Tap Water in Neti Pots and Other Devices Tied to Tough-to-Treat Chronic Sinus Infections

Mycobacteria in the Sinuses continued...

These mycobacteria tend to be a problem for people with medical conditions like HIV that lower their immune function. Surprisingly, only about a third of those patients identified in the new study had an immunity problem that might have put them at greater risk for infection.

Nearly all (91%) had sinus problems severe enough that they’d had surgery to relieve their symptoms, which included headaches, congestion, runny nose, and loss of smell or taste.

But the biggest common link between the patients with mycobacteria was nasal washing -- 31 out of the 33 said they were using some kind of device to rinse their nasal passages, and 26 of those patients said they used tap water to do it.

That made the researchers curious about whether their home taps might be tainted with the same germs found in their sinuses.

Researchers got permission to take samples from eight of the patients' homes. They took hot and cold water samples and swabbed the insides of taps and showerheads.

Five out of the eight tested positive for at least one strain of non-TB mycobacteria. DNA fingerprinting revealed that half of the homes tested had exactly the same strain that was found in the resident’s sinuses.

“There was one patient who was irrigating with filtered water from a Brita filter. It was actually growing in a Brita filter,” says researcher Wellington S. Tichenor, MD, the New York City allergist who treated the patients and investigated their infections.

To be fair, Tichenor says, Brita filters are great for reducing chemicals like chlorine and some metals but they don’t claim to keep bacteria out of drinking water.

Washing Nasal Passages Safely

In order to stay safe, the FDA recommends using distilled or sterile water. Alternatively, the agency says people who want to rinse their sinuses can boil tap water for three to five minutes and then let it cool. Previously boiled water can be stored in a clean container for use within 24 hours.

Filtered water can also be used, according to the FDA, as long as it’s been passed through a specialized filter with a pore size of 1 micron or smaller.

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