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For years, netipots were used to remove the sinuses and relieve nasal congestion. The vessels, which look like a genie lamp, are used to pour sterile, salt water into one nostril

For years, netipots were used to remove the sinuses and relieve nasal congestion. The vessels, which look like a genie lamp, are used to pour sterile, salt water into one nostril.

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You let it drain the other by tilting your head sideways. This would wash away the clogged mucus that clogs the sinuses.

Neti pots are also embraced by most NHS ear, nose and throat departments (ENT) as a safe and effective way to tackle blockages. Even the respected Cochrane research group has said that nasal irrigation is a "cheap, safe and acceptable" alternative to nasal sprays containing steroids or antihistamines.

The devices, available from High Street chemists for just £ 5, are usually made of plastic, steel or ceramic and are recommended for people with a constant runny or stuffy nose.

But are they as safe as we might think? Last year a woman died in Seattle, in the US, after contracting a very rare condition, amoebic meningitis, by misusing a netipot.

For years, netipots were used to remove the sinuses and relieve nasal congestion. The vessels, which look like a genie lamp, are used to pour sterile, salt water into one nostril

For years, netipots were used to remove the sinuses and relieve nasal congestion. The vessels, which look like a genie lamp, are used to pour sterile, salt water into one nostril

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Doctors had prescribed the pot to the 69-year-old to fight a persistent sinus infection. But she failed to follow instructions to use only chilled, boiled water for rinsing, instead she chose tap water.

Unfortunately, the water contained Naegleria fowleri, a small amoeba with a diameter of less than 1 mm, that thrives in water.

The amoeba traveled through its sinuses and stuck into the brain, where it began to consume healthy brain cells. Symptoms of amoebic meningitis cease within a few days, and include headache, behavioral disorders, fever, nausea and vomiting.

Antibiotics can help, but it is fatal in more than 90 percent of the cases. A post-mortem revealed that many of her brains had been destroyed, leading to her death.

This follows two similar cases, also in the US, in 2011, where patients who used tap water instead of sterile water died of the same rare form of meningitis.

The organism that caused all three deaths can be found in hot water of more than 25c.

There are only about 250 cases of meningitis caused by Naegleria fowleri around the world – most relate to swimming in polluted lakes or pools, where water is forced through the nostrils when someone jumps into it. Drinking water containing the amoeba does no harm, because killed by powerful stomach acid.

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So how much of a threat is it in the UK? Tap water is around 20c here, but in the summer it can reach the temperature required for the amoeba to thrive.

However, our household water supplies are treated with chlorine, which has been shown to kill the organism.

But some studies raise doubts about how effective chlorine in tap water is in this task.

A study, published in 2015 in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, showed that the amoebas survived longer in chlorinated water tubes than laboratory tests suggested – 24 hours instead of just five minutes.

Neti pots are also embraced by most NHS ear, nose and throat departments (ENT) as a safe and effective way to tackle blockages. Even the respected Cochrane research group has said that nasal irrigation is a "cheap, safe and acceptable" alternative to nasal sprays containing steroids or antihistamines.

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It is thought that the material film that forms on the inside of water pipes protects the amoeba against chlorine.

The risks of neti pots, when used correctly, are clearly low. But millions of people are not following the instructions properly.

A 2012 study by researchers from the University of Alberta in Canada found that nearly half of neti pot owners used tap water to flush. They interviewed 100 patients who had blocked nasal noses due to allergies and 65 percent found it too & # 39; difficult & # 39; to use chilled boiled water, while 70 percent rarely cleaned their neti pots – another risk of infection.

The researchers warned: "The extremely rare but usually fatal risk of meningitis makes this a potential health risk."

There may be other risks associated with the long-term use of neti pots. Most patients are advised to flush with them daily for one to three weeks to ban congestion. But many use them longer to prevent the symptoms from returning.

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Research from the Georgetown University School of Medicine at Washington in the US suggests that this can increase the risk of sinus infection by up to 60 percent.

It is thought that this is because rinsing washes away excess mucus, but with later use the solution also washes away the healthy layer of nasal mucus that acts as a first line of defense against allergens or bacteria.

Dr. Tony Narula, former president of the professional organization ENT UK, says that netipots are safe and effective if used correctly. "But bacteria and other organisms can settle in dirty water, so it's important to clean them every time you use them," he says. & # 39; If not, you can breathe them in and put yourself at risk. & # 39;

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