Some time ago, I had to record my voice while fighting a terrible head cold.
I heard that a Neti pot — something that looked a bit like a tea kettle — could help. It was supposed to irrigate your nose and wash out all the gunk. Frankly, though, I wouldn’t use it because it didn’t sound sanitary.
Well, as I later learned, Neti pots are completely fine to use — at least if used properly. However, the case of a woman in Seattle, Washington, might make some people think twice before they use one.
They removed a section of brain tissue during an operation, and when they examined it, they made a terrifying discovery.
“When I operated on this lady, a section of her brain about the size of a golf ball was bloody mush,” neurosurgeon Dr. Charles Cobbs said in a phone interview. “There were these amoeba all over the place just eating brain cells.”
“We didn’t have any clue what was going on, but when we got the actual tissue we could see it was the amoeba.”
It turned out that the amoeba had been literally devouring the patient’s brain for approximately a year.
Please don’t use tap water in neti pots. A woman filled her neti pot with tap water, was infected with a brain-eating amoeba and died. While this is rare, we’re going to see more because of climate change and warmer waters. https://t.co/nT5TVjdFmv
— Dr. Yasmin (@DoctorYasmin) December 7, 2018
Sadly, the woman passed away about a month after the procedure.
There was one big question after her death: How did the amoeba get there?
After all, brain-eating amoeba don’t normally turn up in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, her death was only the second of its kind on record.
The answer turned out to be through a Neti pot. Instead of boiled or distilled water (which is what the Neti pot instructions specify), the woman used regular tap water.
That’s an important thing to note, because Neti pots are generally safe. Harvard Medical School otolaryngologist Dr. Ben Bleier explained to Time that “anybody with a normal nasal cavity, or even someone who’s had sinus or nasal surgery but has a healed nasal cavity, can use these safely, as long as they’re using them within the proper guidelines.”
Unfortunately for the poor Seattle woman, tap water definitely fell outside of those guidelines.
Bleir also added that certain individuals should never use Neti pots.
Anyone who has suffered an injury to the nose of sinus cavity should avoid irrigating the area. Why? “The roof of the nose is one of the only parts of the human body where there’s a direct extension of the brain and central nervous system into the outside world,” Bleier said.
He also suggested people consider squeeze bottles over Neti pots. “The irrigation bottles tend to get a little better coverage of the nasal cavity, so they’re a little bit more effective.”
Bleier added that people shouldn’t be overly concerned about the risks from Neti pots, saying, “We still think it’s very, very safe to use. You just have to do it in a clean way.”
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