Courtesy of the NY Times
Nothing but time can cure the common cold, but a simple cup of salt water might ease the misery this winter. A sore, itchy throat and respiratory congestion are some of the more common symptoms of a cold, and gargling with salt water seems to help for several reasons. A saline solution can draw excess fluid from inflamed tissues in the throat, making them hurt less, said Dr. Philip T. Hagen, editor in chief of the “Mayo Clinic Book of Home Remedies,” which is due out in October. Dr. Hagen pointed out that gargling also loosens thick mucus, which can remove irritants like allergens, bacteria and fungi from the throat.
In a randomized study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2005, researchers recruited almost 400 healthy volunteers and followed them for 60 days during cold and flu season. Some of the subjects were told to gargle three times a day. At the end of the study period, the group that regularly gargled had a nearly 40 percent decrease in upper respiratory tract infections compared with the control group, and when they did get sick, “gargling tended to attenuate bronchial symptoms,” the researchers wrote. Other studies have also found gargling helpful against sore throats and congestion. According to the Mayo Clinic, for best results, dissolve half a teaspoon of salt in a full glass of warm water and gargle the solution for a few seconds before spitting it out. Adults who want a more palatable remedy against cough and sore throat can try mixing warm water with lemon and honey. No need to spit it out.
THE BOTTOM LINE Gargling with a saline solution can ease symptoms of a cold.