AARP Eye Center
Sinus Rinse Warning: Two Die From Using Tap Water
By Candy Sagon, December 21, 2011 09:00 AM
Brain-eating amoebas! It may sound like something from a cheesy horror movie, but, unfortunately, it's all too true. And deadly.
Two people, including a 51-year-old woman, have died from using tap water to do a sinus rinse, the popular home remedy for relieving nasal congestion.
In Louisiana, where both deaths occurred, the state Department of Health and Hospitals has issued a warning that all should heed: If you are using a neti pot or those squeeze bottles for sinus rinses, use distilled, filtered or previously boiled water.
Both victims died from a brain infection caused by Naegleria fowleri, an amoeba common in rivers and lakes, after they used tap water in a neti pot to flush their sinuses. A neti pot looks like a small genie's lamp.
These infections are rare (only 32 instances in the past decade), but can occur if water is forced up the nose -- such as from diving or jumping into fresh water, or doing a nasal rinse with tap water that contains the microbe.
The first death, a 20-year-old man, occurred in June. The woman died in October. Both her brain tissue and her tap water tested positive for the microbe, health officials said.
Louisiana then issued a warning about not using tap water for nasal irrigation. Officials also strongly advised people to "rinse the irrigation device (with distilled or boiled water) after each use and leave open to air dry."
Both neti pots and plastic sinus-rinse squeeze bottles come with instructions recommending using previously boiled, distilled or filtered water, but some users may be tempted to skip that step.
For them, we have only three words: Brain. Eating. Amoebas.
Photo credit: thegreenhead.com