Salt Water Gargling, Nasal Irrigation May Keep COVID From Worsening

THURSDAY, Nov. 9, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- If you're suffering from COVID, you might want to grab a glass of warm water and a shaker of salt.

New research suggests that gargling and rinsing your nasal passages with a saline solution may help keep you out of the hospital.

In the small study, researchers found that gargling four times a day for 14 days with salt water seemed to ease symptoms and cut the odds of being hospitalized significantly.

"We believe there is evidence that COVID-19 replicates itself in the upper respiratory tract," explained lead researcher Dr. Jimmy Espinoza, a professor of maternal-fetal medicine at University of Texas Health in Houston.

For the study, Espinoza and his colleagues tested whether salt water gargling was effective in treating COVID-19. Between 2020 and 2022, they assigned 58 people with COVID-19 to gargle salt water at either a high or low dose of salt. They compare their findings with nearly 9,400 COVID patients from the general population.

Both salt water groups and non-gargling general population group had similar rates of COVID vaccination.

The researchers found that 19% of those who gargled the low dose of salt were hospitalized, as were 21% of those who gargled the high-salt dose. These percentages were significantly lower than the 59% hospitalization rate of patients who didn't gargle, Espinoza said.

The findings are to be presented Thursday at the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology annual meeting, in Anaheim, Calif. Findings presented at medical meetings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Espinoza said that the effectiveness of the treatment still needs to be proven in larger studies that also try to determine whether gargling works against all strains of the virus.

Gargling isn't meant to replace vaccinations or antiviral drugs, he said.

"This is a very, very simple intervention," Espinoza said. "But this is not meant to replace the actual interventions that we have. We think that this could be complimentary because it's a simple intervention. It is cheap and it's available anywhere."

Still, one expert said this treatment is not something that ready to become part of treating COVID-19.

I have too many questions to conclude that this is likely to become an important measure of control," said Dr. Bruce Hirsch, an infectious disease specialist at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y.

"I would wait and see before I would recommend even something trivial like gargling salt water," he said. "It doesn't really make sense to me."

More information

For more on COVID-19, see the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Jimmy Espinoza, MD, professor, maternal-fetal medicine, University of Texas Health, Houston; Bruce Hirsch, MD, infectious disease specialist, North Shore University Hospital, Manhasset, N.Y.; presentation, American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology annual meeting, Anaheim, Calif., Nov. 9, 2023

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