The Edinburgh and Lothians Viral Intervention Study (ELVIS) for short, has discovered that nose drops and gargling with salt water can shorten the average length of a cold virus by almost two days.
The research project run by the University of Edinburgh initially showed last September that NaCL (sodium chloride) inhibited all types of viruses. The prevention of viruses is caused by the chloride component of salt, not the sodium.
Now the latest findings show that nasal irrigation and gargling with salt water will also help relieve the misery of the common cold.
Patients were asked to keep track of symptoms by collecting a nose swab on five consecutive days, and to treat the illness by sniffing hypertonic saline nasal irrigation drops that has a higher concentration of salt and gargling. The participants in the study displayed a reduction in the overall length of the illness of 1.9 days, as well as a 36 per cent drop in over-the-counter medicine use and a 35 per cent reduction in infection of others in the household.
Dr Sandeep Ramalingam, consultant virologist at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, who led the study, said cells use chloride ions to produce hypochlorous acid (HOCI) which is the active ingredient that is found in bleach.
In effect, cells use the chloride ion to produce bleach to get rid of viral infections – since bleach kills all viruses Dr Ramalingam believes that this will work across the board.
He added: “Jala Neti (nasal irrigation with salt water) has been recorded in ancient texts that are thousands of years old.
“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.
“With ELVIS, we are in a way re-inventing the wheel by proving that salt water helps reduce the duration of the cold.
“However, we have also done laboratory-based research where we have proved that our cells need the chloride ion from salt to stop viruses from multiplying.
“Since this mechanism works against all types of viruses, it is an effective remedy for the common cold.”
Based on the success of this study, its authors are launching another to focus on children.
ELVIS Kids, hopes to recruit 480 children to take part.
Scientists based at Edinburgh Children’s Hospital will teach parents how to make salt water and apply nose drops for their children at home.
Parents will need to meet a trial nurse only once to take part in the study, and their child does not need to attend the meeting.