A pilot, open labelled, randomised controlled trial of hypertonic saline nasal irrigation and gargling for the common cold.

Scientific reports. 2019;9(1):1015

Plain language summary

The common cold is a viral upper respiratory tract infection which affects adults and children worldwide, often multiple times a year. A large number of viruses cause these infections, making targeted antiviral treatment impractical. This small, randomised, controlled pilot trial (not blinded) of 68 adults aimed to assess the impact of salt-water nasal washing and throat gargling as many times as required (on average 3 times a day for 5 days) within 48 hours of symptom on-set on study recruitment and retention, as well as acceptability, symptom duration and viral shedding. The researchers found that nasal irrigation and gargling with a saline solution was acceptable to study participants. Illness duration was shortened by 1.9 days in the intervention arm, with significant reductions in the duration of runny nose, blocked nose, sneezing, cough and hoarseness of voice. The average quality of life score was also higher in the intervention arm, although this failed to reach significance. Viral shedding was higher in the intervention arm, with over the counter medication use 36% lower. There was also a lower rate of infection spread within households for the intervention arm. The authors call for a larger, placebo controlled trial to confirm these findings. Nutrition Practitioners supporting immunity in relation to the common cold virus may want to discuss the use of saline nasal irrigation with their clients as a simple measure to reduce symptoms and spread.


undefined: There are no antivirals to treat viral upper respiratory tract infection (URTI). Since numerous viruses cause URTI, antiviral therapy is impractical. As we have evidence of chloride-ion dependent innate antiviral response in epithelial cells, we conducted a pilot, non-blinded, randomised controlled trial of hypertonic saline nasal irrigation and gargling (HSNIG) vs standard care on healthy adults within 48 hours of URTI onset to assess recruitment (primary outcome). Acceptability, symptom duration and viral shedding were secondary outcomes. Participants maintained a symptom diary until well for two days or a maximum of 14 days and collected 5 sequential mid-turbinate swabs to measure viral shedding. The intervention arm prepared hypertonic saline and performed HSNIG. We recruited 68 participants (2.6 participants/week; November 2014-March 2015). A participant declined after randomisation. Another was on antibiotics and hence removed (Intervention:32, Control:34). Follow up data was available from 61 (Intervention:30, Control:31). 87% found HSNIG acceptable, 93% thought HSNIG made a difference to their symptoms. In the intervention arm, duration of illness was lower by 1.9 days (p = 0.01), over-the-counter medications (OTCM) use by 36% (p = 0.004), transmission within household contacts by 35% (p = 0.006) and viral shedding by ≥0.5 log /day (p = 0.04). We hence need a larger trial to confirm our findings.

Lifestyle medicine

Fundamental Clinical Imbalances : Immune and inflammation
Patient Centred Factors : Triggers/Immunity/virus
Environmental Inputs : Air and water
Personal Lifestyle Factors : Not applicable
Functional Laboratory Testing : Saliva

Methodological quality

Jadad score : 3
Allocation concealment : No