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Neti Worth: Stock in the value of nasal irrigation is up

New Yorkers, even the once squeamish, have come to embrace the funneling of saltwater through our noses. These nasal enemas look a lot like a frat prank, but they’re done in the name of preventing colds and soothing sinus infections. Now neti pots, the teapot-like sinus spigots that hail from Ayurvedic medicine, get prime retail real estate at the Whole Foods checkout line. And not just because the Times, Oprah, or Youtube (view at your own risk) made it mainstream. But because the cheap, drug-free process of nasal irrigation seems to work.

I’m proof. Although a holistically inclined person, I nonetheless feared and avoided becoming neti-potter. My back was against the wall recently, however, when I landed an intractable sinus infection. I didn’t have the luxury of health insurance, and taking antibiotics after a scary bout with MRSA didn’t seem smart. So I had to do what many others have done in this situation: suck it up.

“New Yorkers live in dry, temperature-controlled environments, which make mucus membranes thicken and dry out. Germs and particles get stuck, instead of being filtered into the stomach where the strong acids destroy them,” says Carrie Demers, M.D., an internist at the Himalayan Institute, an Ayurvedic wellness center that was one of the neti pot’s first U.S. importers. “This can lead to infections, colds, or allergies.” So the neti pot works like saltwater Drano to keep the passageways clear.

Yay, nasal irrigation! A pot costs about $20. (Not including temporary emotional distress.)

The remedy is one of just a few mentioned recently in the Times as a proven affordable cold-fighter. “It may take anywhere from three days to two weeks to get sick after you’ve been exposed to a virus,” Demers says. “If you wash the virus particles away with a neti pot within that time frame, you likely won’t get sick.”

If you do get sick, neti-potting isn’t a silver-bullet fix. But it can move congestion along and you may get better faster, says Noah Rubinstein, an acupuncturist and a former professor at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, who specializes in respiratory conditions. (For complete blockages, when a neti pot won’t work, Rubinstein recommends steaming with eucalyptus oil.)

While many first-timers balk at the neti pot’s gross-factor, I had to get over an irrational fear of drowning. But after a few unpleasant attempts (and scenes at the bathroom sink), I got the hang of it. My reward: the return of regular nostril breathing! And it was liberating to be able to breathe freely, without paying out of pocket for a doctor’s visit or a prescription.

Which isn’t to say that it’s not icky. It is. But it’s just not that gross. “People get used to it like brushing their teeth, says Rubinstein. “Water goes in. Water comes out.”

Got any advice to first-time neti pot users? Tell us, here!

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