News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mark Bennett B-Sides

December 2, 2010

MARK BENNETT: Nasal solution: Sign us up for neti pot

TERRE HAUTE — I could gently ease into this column with a witty, homespun story, but the cold-and-flu season has hit and there’s no time to waste.

So, let’s cut to the chase: Today, we’re discussing mucus, and the pouring of warm saltwater through one nostril and out the other.

(Yes, breakfast is now officially over. You’ll thank me later … much later.)

Almost every human deals with colds, as well as sinus problems or nasal allergies. Those who are hip to ancient-world remedies know the benefits of a “neti pot.” I’d never heard of such a thing until a friend recently recommended that my wife and I try a neti pot for sinus headaches.

“Is that something you can only buy in California?” we wondered.

Au contraire. Actually, neti pots, made by a variety of companies, are available over the counter at some pharmacies and herbal shops right here in Terre Haute. They look like tiny teapots made of plastic, ceramics or stainless steel. Folks in India’s Ayurvedic yoga tradition developed neti pots 5,000 years ago. Their popularity surged in the 21st century through, of course, television.

“Two or three years ago, Oprah had [the neti pot] on TV,” said Jessica Fowler, a pharmacist at Lynn’s Pharmacy in Brazil, “and we started getting calls about it.”

To the uninitiated, a neti pot should be filled with about 4 ounces of “blood-warm” water, as Dr. Mehmet Oz, medical adviser to “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” put it in an interview with The Doctors’ Prescription for Healthy Living magazine. (That means the water should be body temperature.) Then a half teaspoon of salt, or one saline packet provided in a neti pot kit, is mixed into the water. Next, the user tilts his or her head over a sink, places the pot’s spout in their upper nostril and slowly pours in half of the mixture. The liquid should flow through the nasal cavity and run out the lower nostril. The process is repeated on the other side.

The result?

“It just takes all the gelatinous goo out of there,” Oz told Healthy Living.

(Your lunch now may be off, too. Sorry about that.)

More precisely, “neti” is a Sanskrit word meaning “nasal cleansing,” and the term “jala neti” refers to “nasal irrigation.” But don’t let agricultural images throw you off. A neti pot can help cleanse nasal passages, reduce swelling and relieve some cold and sinus problems, alternative medicine enthusiasts contend.

“It takes away a world of problems, because we don’t realize all the things we breathe in,” said Gail Whitfield, director of nursing for the Vigo County Health Department. “I’m telling you, it’s amazing.”

Whitfield’s first exposure to a neti pot occurred in the 1980s. While working as a registered nurse in a Veterans Administration hospital in Dayton, she heard unusual sounds coming from a restroom near the nurse’s station and investigated. She found a man using a neti pot.

“I thought, ‘What’s he using?’ ” Whitfield recalled, with a laugh. “I didn’t know until 10 years later.”

Eventually, Whitfield started using a neti pot, too. When she returned to her hometown of Terre Haute in 2006, she told her Health Department coworkers, “You all need to get yourselves a neti pot.”

Whitfield adds a dash of oregano oil, as an antibacterial agent, to her neti pot solution. Besides sinus and cold relief, the nasal washing also curbs bad breath, Whitfield said.

Some dedicated advocates use neti pots daily, and some every morning and night.

Neti potting takes some practice. (And, as we learned in our house, wisecracks and laughing disrupt the flow, so stay serious and follow the directions.)

“It’s difficult to get it coordinated,” said Fowler, who used a neti pot during her pregnancy, when she couldn’t use certain cold medications.

Online photos and YouTube demonstrations make it look quite simple. On one website, young women smile as they casually pour salt water through their noses. (Those photos probably won’t make it into their modeling portfolios.) On another, a bearded sixtysomething guy effortlessly drains the neti pot through both nostrils while standing in a garden setting with blissful music playing in the background.

OK? Now, take a deep breath and start thinking about what’s for dinner.

Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or

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    March 12, 2010