Can salt water solution cure the common cold?

Surfers say colds vanish more quickly when they have been out in salty surf. Picture: Ian RutherfordSurfers say colds vanish more quickly when they have been out in salty surf. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Surfers say colds vanish more quickly when they have been out in salty surf. Picture: Ian Rutherford
CHICKEN soup and hot toddies are common “cures” – but researchers hope a new experimental cold remedy will soon be worth its salt.

Health professionals are teaming up with Edinburgh University to test the effectiveness of saline solution – or salt water – in helping to clear the common cold.

The Edinburgh and Lothians Viral Intervention Study – ELVIS for short – is looking for 60 otherwise healthy adults, who have a cold that started within 48 hours, to see if symptoms are eased by regular nasal irrigations and gargling.

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With colds typically lasting a week, consultant virologist for NHS Lothian, Dr Sandeep Ramalingam, said the trial would observe whether cleaning affected areas with salt water speeded up the process of getting better. “It’s something that I use personally and have done for many years now. I find it’s very helpful when I have a cold, reducing symptoms very quickly, and I thought it was worth giving it a try in the wider community.

“If you have a sore throat, then one of the things you can do is gargle salt water. I thought, why not try that, and I felt a lot better. For the first few minutes, it leaves you wanting to blow your nose but then I’ve found it relieves symptoms like congestion or a runny nose for hours.”

It is estimated adults typically have two to three episodes of the common cold in a year, with no cure. “As an illness, it is generally mild, but more severe infections, including pneumonia and bronchiolitis, can aggravate conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” said Dr Ramalingam.

Swabs will be taken on the first day before a nurse judges whether there is a difference in the level of virus.

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Participants will be asked to keep track of symptoms daily, collect a nose swab on five consecutive days, and may be asked to perform nasal irrigation, effectively sniffing up the solution, and gargling. The results will then be analysed.

The natural remedy has been backed by Lisa Monteith, 24, of Coast to Coast surf school, who said she came down with more illnesses when she stopped surfing for a while. “I definitely think there’s something in it,” she said. “I live with someone who doesn’t surf and we got the cold at the same time. I got over mine in days and he’s still got it.

“When I took time off surfing, I got sick all the time and it would take forever to go away.

“When I took it back up again, my cold and other illnesses disappear really fast.”

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Dr Ramalingam said the study was in its infancy but, if successful, he would look to conduct a much wider trial.

Volunteers have until April to sign up to the study by visiting or calling Edinburgh Royal Infirmary on 0131-242 7206.