A simple saltwater solution could help reduce early symptoms and the progression of coronavirus, new research has suggested.


Scientists at the University of Edinburgh believe sea salt could boost the antiviral defence of cells that kicks in when you are affected by a cold.

The new study builds on a trial published in 2019, which found participants who gargled and cleared their nose with a saltwater solution had fewer coughs and less congestion.

The researchers will now investigate whether the same solution can benefit those with COVID-19 symptoms and are recruiting adults in Scotland to take part in trials.

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Professor Aziz Sheikh, director of the university’s Usher Institute, said: “We are now moving to trial our saltwater intervention in those with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, and hope it will prove to be a useful measure to reduce the impact and spread of the infection.

“It only requires salt, water and some understanding of procedure so should – if found to be effective – be easy and inexpensive to implement widely.”

The original pilot study had half of its participants gargling salt water © Anthony Devlin/PA
The original pilot study had half of its participants gargling salt water © Anthony Devlin/PA

Half of the participants in the original pilot study – known as the Edinburgh and Lothians Viral Intervention Study, or ELVIS – gargled saltwater while the other dealt with a cold as they normally would.

Those joining the new trial will be asked to follow government advice on hygiene and self-isolation with one group again asked to gargle and clear their nose with salt water.


To find out more about the study and to take part, visit ed.ac.uk.

Reader Q&A: Does the body need salt?

Asked by: Phoebe Yates, Grantham

We can’t survive without it. It’s crucial for our nervous system to function, our muscles to contract and relax, and for maintaining fluid balance. However, the amount that we need is actually very small: less than a quarter of a teaspoon a day.

Almost all of us consume more than that, and exceeding 6g (a teaspoon) per day could be harmful if you’re at risk of, or have, high blood pressure. The best way of reducing salt intake is to eat less processed food.

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Alexander McNamaraOnline Editor, BBC Science Focus

Alexander is the former Online Editor at BBC Science Focus.