Pilot study finds salt an effective treatment for the common cold

Salt cellar with salt
1 Feb 2019

Most of us have at least one attack of the common cold every year. Though rhinovirus is known as the "common cold virus", the common cold can be caused by many viruses, making it difficult to treat.

Could the solution be in your kitchen cupboard?

Salt: a treatment as common as your cold

The Edinburgh and Lothians Viral Intervention Study (ELVIS) found that nasal irrigation and gargling with salt water can shorten the average length of a cold virus by almost two days.

Dr Sandeep Ramalingam, consultant virologist at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, who led the study, said:

Since this mechanism works against all types of viruses, it is an effective remedy for the common cold.

The new findings are built on previous work from the University of Edinburgh, which demonstrated that salt (also known as sodium chloride or NaCl) helps to inhibit viruses.

Cells use the chloride ion to produce hypochlorous acid (HOCI), the active ingredient in bleach, which destroys the virus. This antiviral activity can be boosted by increasing the availability of salt to the cell.

An effective treatment in children?

Following the success of the trial, the team have now launched ELVIS Kids, focusing on the effects of the treatment in children.

The study will look at salt water nose drops versus standard care in children with a cold. Scientists based at Edinburgh Sick Children’s Hospital will teach parents how to make salt water and apply nose drops for their children at home.

ELVIS Kids hopes to recruit 480 children, aged six or under, to take part.

Further applications in asthma

The team also plans to investigate whether this simple intervention is useful in populations at risk of respiratory tract infections, such as those with asthma and COPD.

For those with asthma, even a mild cold can lead to a worsening of asthma symptoms. If found to be effective, this cheap and accessible treatment could help to prevent asthma flare-ups.

Related Links

Cite the study

Ramalingam S, Graham C, Dove J, Morrice L, Sheikh A. A pilot, open labelled, randomised controlled trial of hypertonic saline nasal irrigation and gargling for the common cold. Scientific Reports (2019) 9:1015 | doi 10.1038/s41598-018-37703-3

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