The common cold can be cured with salt water because the body uses it to produce anti-viral bleach, scientists say.
Nose drops and gargling salt water were shown to reduce the average length of the virus by up to two days in a study.
Participants who used the method were less likely to need over-the-counter medications and less likely to pass their cold on to family members, compared to those who did not.
Cells in the body use the chloride in salt to produce hypochlorous acid (HOCI) which is the active ingredient found in bleach.
The researchers, at the University of Edinburgh, have been aiming to find a low-cost option to treat the incurable common cold.
They are now looking at whether the home remedy can be used as a viable method to treat the virus in children.
The common cold can be cured with salt water as the body uses it to produce anti-viral bleach, scientists believe. Nose drops and gargling salt water, a method called were shown to reduce the average length of the virus by up to two days in a study
The Edinburgh and Lothians Viral Intervention Study (ELVIS) involved 54 participants who confirmed they had symptoms of a cold.
Researchers asked 30 people with colds to add three grams of Cornish sea salt to a 100 millilitre bowl of boiling water.
After waiting for it to cool, they blocked one nostril and inhaled the water through the other, repeating this for both nostrils three times each. Study participants then gargled three times with the remaining salt water.
These people were compared to 31 people who did nothing to treat their cold, with both answering daily questions on their symptoms until two days after they got better.
For those using the salt solution, their cold ended 1.9 days earlier, with their blocked nose clearing 2.7 days sooner than those who let the cold run its course. Sneezing came to an end 1.5 days earlier, with coughing easing 2.4 days faster.
Among the 57 people who filled out questionnaires after their illness ended, 35 per cent fewer people using the salt solution said someone else in their home had caught their cold and suffered similar symptoms.
The cold virus is passed on in the air through speaking and breathing, and the likelihood of this happening can be measured based on someone’s ‘viral load’.
To do this, researchers examined five days of early-morning nasal swabs from the people in the study.
The results show people who used salt water appeared to be less contagious. They were 30 per cent more likely to see a significant reduction in the amount of virus in their body.
Dr Sandeep Ramalingam, the virologist who led the research, said: ‘It is an extremely simple measure to take for someone who is battling a cold.’
The average adult gets a cold three times a year, which is unpleasant enough in itself but can also lead to respiratory problems like pneumonia.
There is no cure because so many different viruses cause the common cold, which leaves sufferers desperate for ways to cut their illness short and relieve the symptoms.
Dr Ramalingam The Scotsman: ‘I understand that gargling with salt water was commonly recommended by GPs in the UK, up until the First World War.
‘It probably became an “old wives tale” after antibiotics were invented.’
The remedy, called hypertonic saline nasal irrigation and gargling, or HSNIG, is also known as Jalaneti.
Jalaneti is an ancient practice from India, recommended in ancient texts that are thousands of years old.
The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, stated: ‘In this pilot, HSNIG significantly reduced the duration of upper respiratory tract infections, over-the-counter medicine use and illness within the household.
Based on the success of this study, its authors are launching another to focus on children, looking to recruit 480 children and their parents.
HOW TO MAKE A SALT SOLUTION FOR THE TREATMENT OF COMMON COLD
According to The Edinburgh and Lothians Viral Intervention Study (ELVIS), this is how you can make a hypertonic saline to try and treat the common cold at home:
Use the highest concentration of hypertonic saline you are happy with. To decide on the concentration, taste it. It should be salty, but not uncomfortably so. If uncomfortable to taste, dilute it to a lower concentration that you are comfortable with.
Always boil the water first (as water can have free living amoeba and hence it’s important to be safe).
Add the salt, mix and wait for it to cool before using.
If you do not have a spoon that measures in grams:
1 slightly heaped tea spoon measure = approximately 5-6 g of sea salt
(It may vary depending on the manufacturer/type and batch of salt/water content, etc.)
And 1 cup = approximately 200ml.
So 100ml = 1/2 a cup approx.
You could make it in bulk in a flask to use during the day. If so, please make fresh solution every day and make sure the flask is clean.
You can calculate the concentration of salt needed depending on the concentration of hypertonic saline you prefer and the size of the flask.
As for the flask, please use a glass lined flask. Stainless steel flasks are no good for this as it will corrode with time (salt water and regular grade steel don’t go together).
How to perform hypertonic saline nasal irrigation and gargling (HSNIG)
Use a clean small bowl to pour out some solution. Bend over the sink and close the right nostril. Bring the bowl to the left nostril and inhale the solution to the nose.
It will go to the back of the throat, but do not swallow the solution.
The solution will come out the nose and mouth – stay bent over the sink.
Repeat the procedure twice for each nostril, or more until the solution is running clear. Then gargle with the remainder of the solution.
Once you have done the procedure, blow your nose gently to remove any water that may have entered your sinuses. You may need to repeat this a few times, slightly bent over with your chin to your chest.
After HSNIG, you should feel your symptoms subsiding for a few hours. And then, you will notice the symptoms return. That’s when you need to repeat the procedure again.
How many times a day you use HSNIG depends on how severe your symptoms are.