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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...

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.

 “The best thing is to use sterile water, which is what I use for my nose,” Tichenor tells WebMD. But there’s a catch. Sterile water can be a bit tough to get. It requires a doctor’s prescription. Or people can pick up sterile water rinses for contact lenses. Those solutions come in small bottles, though. And Tichenor says that getting enough to rinse your nose can quickly become costly.

How quickly can a neti pot or other nasal washing device become contaminated? Tichenor cites research that shows 25% will pick up germs after one week, while 100% become contaminated after a month.

“What it means is that you need to change it on a regular basis,” he says. Cleaning isn’t enough since the neck of the pot is often hard to scrub.

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