Gargling controversy: Tap water as a cold remedy? Newspaper questions study.

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

The most popular article in our latest e-newsletter took on a simple, long-time first-aid remedy: hydrogen peroxide. Believe it or not, it may do your cuts more harm than good.

After our managing editor tweeted a link to it, Twitter follower Ross Kennedy asked, “What about gargling with diluted peroxide?” Good question.

I’m not aware of any well-done studies that have shown that gargling with peroxide helps prevent infections. It probably doesn’t hurt, as long as it’s well diluted. (Otherwise, it can cause a burn.) One study did suggest that gargling with plain old water might help keep you cold-free. But the validity of its findings has been questioned.


THE GREAT GARGLING CONTROVERSY

Apparently, gargling is pretty popular in Japan. A few years ago, a loose-knit group of Japanese researchers known as The Great Cold Investigators published a study on it. They divided a group of people into three sets. One set gargled with tap water three times a day. Another gargled with an antiseptic. The remainder were told to maintain their usual routine.

In the end, the tap water group had fewer colds. The researchers speculated that the chlorine could have “inactivated” the viruses, or maybe swishing the water got rid of some enzymes in the throat that help infections grow. In a later analysis, they found no evidence that gargling prevented the flu.

But late last year, this article from The Japan Times noted some interesting flaws in the study. For one thing, many of the people in the control group-the ones told to stay with their usual routine-ended up gargling several times a day! (Remember, gargling is popular over there.) Also, a higher percentage of people in that group were from a part of Japan that has more colds than the other regions, according to the article.

The bottom line is, gargle if you want. Just don’t go overboard. If it’s painful, don’t do it. Boring old good nutrition, washing hands, and plenty of rest seem to still be the gold standard for preventing infections.


James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H., is the publisher of
MyFamilyDoctorMag.com, a Web site written by health-care providers for the general public. Subscribe to the free e-newsletter here.


As with all information on this site, this article cannot replace professional, personal medical advice. Read more here.


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3 Responses to “Gargling controversy: Tap water as a cold remedy? Newspaper questions study.”

  1. Judy Rodman Says:

    I do something that does the same thing gargling used to for me… and does it better. I use a Neti Pot, and the saline solution going into my nostrils washes out the back of my throat a bit, too. It definitely seems to dilute the post nasal drip that signals the onset of a cold that used to lead so often to laryngitis for me.

    I don’t use the Neti Pot regularly… just when I notice extra junk and/or congestion in my mask and throat area. It seems to clear allergens and soothes mucous membranes.

    What is the medical “take” on using nasal washes like this?

  2. James Hubbard Says:

    Judy,

    The medical take on nasal irrigation is it works. I encourage it to all my patients with nasal allergies or recurrent sinus infections. Many swear by it.

    Thanks

  3. Leigh Ann Otte Says:

    Hi, Judy. Thank you for the question. Adding to what Dr. Hubbard said, we have an article on allergies that talks about nasal irrigation. The allergist we interviewed recommended it.

    http://familydoctormag.com/chronic-disease/181-allergy-treatment.html?start=1/#nasal

    (Look to the right, in the “Home Remedy” box. It also links to a video on how to irrigate.)

    Leigh Ann Otte
    Managing Editor

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