neti pot hysteria

Apologies to my uterused friends for the use of the word “hysteria”.

So, another person died from a naegleria fowleri infection transmitted via a neti pot. And, predictably, it’s making the rounds with everyone freaking out, swearing off the neti pot, and generally panicking.

First, a bit of evangelism: the neti pot changed my life. I know, you’ve heard it all before, but hear it again. For certain types of people (like me), with truly effed up sinus geography (like mine), regular sinus infections are a part of life. Sinus surgery, rigorous application of steroids (oral and corticosteroid nasal spray), and decongestants helped me combat them to some extent, but not entirely. For much of my life, even post-sinus-surgery, I dealt with at least one sinus infection a month. At the behest of some friends, I finally bought a tried a neti pot. After overcoming the initial squickiness of it all, I learned to love it. And, in fact, I haven’t had a serious sinus infection since I started. Only once did I relapse at all, and that was because I was travelling and didn’t bring the neti pot. Lesson learned. It’s nothing magical or mystical – having used it long enough now, I know that there’s one spot in the back of my sinuses (probably some remnant of my mostly-removed ethmoid sinus walls that remained post-surgery) where “stuff” accumulates. If I don’t flush it out, it turns into an infection. Regularly.

Anyways, enough TMI. You get the drift: it changed my life, and I rely on it heavily. I flush my sinuses at least once a day, sometimes more.

Now, everyone is freaking out and sending me this article and encouraging me to only use microwaved distilled water. Yeah, no. I’ll take my chances with the brain-eating amoeba. Seriously guys. A quick reality check, here:

  • There were two cases of this. Two. This alone is a statistical non-entity.
  • Both cases were confined to Louisiana, an area that fits the bill for where the CDC says the amoeba lurks: “southern-tier states” near large bodies of fresh water.
  • The amoeba is killed in water hotter than 47 degrees celsius (116.6F). Most hot water heaters are set to 120F to begin with.

These cases tell us far more about the quality of Louisiana’s water supply and the temperature (or state) of the water heaters in question. So, speaking for myself, I’m faced with a choice: turn a 2 minute chore into a 15 minute one involving cases of distilled water and a microwave, or take my chances using tap water. Seeing as how I have a better chance of getting hit by lightning or winning the lottery then of getting infected by this amoeba, I think the choice is clear. I’m not sweating it.

It’s hard, also, not to review these hysterical articles and not get a bit suspicious of the intentions: here we have a natural, cheap and effective remedy for sinus ailments, which are currently treated by modern allopathic medicine with drastic, expensive less-effective options (surgery, drugs, etc.) Two statistically negligible cases emerge, attributable more to the water supply and quality, and suddenly they’re being demonized in the media. I’m not saying it’s some huge conspiratorial campaign (never attribute to malice that which you can attribute to stupidity), but still, it’s fishy. I’ll never forget the sign I saw at Vanderbilt’s ASAP (allergy and sinus) clinic with a picture of a neti pot that said (paraphrased), “don’t rely on old wives’ tales. come see the experts”, or something similar. They also specifically advised me not to use one. Now that I’ve experienced how amazing the neti pot has actually been for me, I actually get a little angry, when I think about all the money and time I’ve spent on drugs, surgery, CT scan after CT scan, that they had the nerve to be so dismissive of something as simple as squirting water up your nose.