Unused: Hydrogen Peroxide Gargle Against Coronavirus
Whether gargling with hydrogen peroxide helps against the coronavirus, flu or colds has never been scientifically investigated. Little is known about the risks either.
This post is part of our collection of Coronavirus fact checks
Gargling with hydrogen peroxide, or H 2 O 2 for short – some people swear by it.
Entire books and websites are devoted to the substance and report in detail on the alleged “forgotten healing power” of H 2 O 2.
As a gargle solution, hydrogen peroxide is said to kill viruses and bacteria in the throat, for example. And so also help against sore throats and colds.
What does science say about it? Could the theory of gargling away infections also work in practice?
Effect and safety were not investigated
We started looking for scientific answers. We could not find any studies on gargling with hydrogen peroxide to prevent or treat infections in the throat. Neither do those on risks and negative effects with regular use.
That means: We cannot say whether diseases can be prevented or alleviated by hydrogen peroxide gargling and what long-term side effects there may be.
Understandably, many people are currently thinking about protection against viruses in general and newly discovered coronaviruses in particular. It is unlikely that gargling with hydrogen peroxide can protect or even treat infections with the coronavirus, which became known in December 2019. It has not been scientifically investigated.
Long-term side effects unclear
We found a study on possible short-term side effects. She examined twelve healthy participants who were gargling with hydrogen peroxide.
The participants reported various unpleasant side effects: a furry feeling in the mouth, nausea and discolouration of the tongue, for example. Some stopped the study prematurely because of pain in the mouth and taste disorders.
The undesirable consequences of long-term daily gargling with hydrogen peroxide for the oral mucosa have never been scientifically investigated. It is conceivable that the solution could attack the mucous membrane of the throat itself and even more so become the entry point for pathogens.
If the gargle solution accidentally gets into the windpipe or is swallowed, there is a risk of damage to the mucous membrane and stomach problems. There are safer preparations that can be used to gargle in case of a cold.
Only effective for a short time
Would an effect be plausible? In theory, yes. After all, hydrogen peroxide kills bacteria and viruses.
However, there are some problems: For one thing, even the most experienced gurgler cannot reach every corner of the throat. Viruses and bacteria that survive there can continue to spread unhindered.
On the other hand, it is unclear whether a few minutes of gargling are even enough to put an end to pathogens. Because hydrogen peroxide reacts violently, but only briefly with its surroundings. Then it quickly breaks down into its neutral components.
Its disinfecting effect is just as short-lived. The necessary exposure time for hydrogen peroxide against cold viruses should be around 15 to 30 minutes Nobody can and probably wants to gargle that long.
Whiskey instead of hydrogen peroxide?
In our research, we came across a study that looked at how hydrogen peroxide affects common bacteria in the oral cavity. Healthy volunteers rinsed with hydrogen peroxide solutions. Then the number of bacteria in their saliva was measured.
The result of this microbial census: The bacterial population fell briefly. But she partially recovered after an hour. Hydrogen peroxide did reduce the number of bacteria in the oral cavity. However, no more than gargling with high-proof alcohol. Or as the authors of the study put it: You could also rinse your mouth with a glass of whiskey for the same effect.
Replaced by newer substances
Hydrogen peroxide is a powerful oxidizing agent that can kill germs. If it reacts with its environment, oxygen radicals are formed. These are toxic to living cells. Hydrogen peroxide is, therefore, a component of various disinfectants.
In medicine, it is used to clean wounds and as a mouthwash before dental treatments. Heavily diluted, of course. In its concentrated form, hydrogen peroxide is irritating and harmful to health. It is usually diluted to a 3% solution for use in the mouth.
In the meantime, however, hydrogen peroxide has largely been replaced by other substances in medicine.
Effective and yet environmentally friendly
The main area of application for hydrogen peroxide is not medicine, but the industry. It is very popular here because it is easy to manufacture and environmentally friendly. Because after it has reacted with its environment, it breaks down into nothing but water and oxygen. Both absolutely harmless.
In industry, hydrogen peroxide is used in concentrated form, for example in metal processing. The food industry, in turn, uses it to make packaging and bottles sterile.
Radiant smile and blond hair
In addition to its disinfecting effect, it also has another outstanding property: hydrogen peroxide is a powerful bleaching agent. In the toothpaste, it ensures whiter teeth. It can bleach fabrics, wood and paper, but also hair. The hydrogen-blonde hair that has become legendary is exactly that – treated with hydrogen peroxide.
And even forensics can use the substance well: using hydrogen peroxide, traces of blood can be detected in a certain test.
The natural weapon against germs
Hydrogen peroxide also occurs naturally in the body as a waste product from various metabolic processes. When it decays, highly reactive oxygen radicals are created, which are toxic to breathing cells.
In the event of an infection, the affected body cells release hydrogen peroxide to damage the pathogen. It is also one of the natural defence mechanisms with which the body defends itself against bacteria and viruses.