A new piece of research suggests that a simple sea salt water solution could help to reduce the symptoms of a cold.

The homemade remedy was shown to shorten the length of a cold by almost two days and to reduce the need for over-the-counter medicines by a third, but researchers caution that more studies are needed.

Experts say the method could be a cheap treatment for the cold and provides evidence that this traditional tonic could be effective.

Most adults in the UK suffer at least one cold every year. Families with school-age children contract up to 12 annually. There is no treatment for the common cold. Its symptoms are usually minor and short-lived, but the cold has a substantial impact on the economy, causing many people to take time off work.

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The small pilot study – known as the Edinburgh and Lothians Viral Intervention Study, or ELVIS – recruited healthy adults within two days of them contracting an upper respiratory tract infection – commonly known as a cold.

The study results were published in Scientific Reports. Participants in the trial kept a diary of their symptoms for up to two weeks. Doctors also collected swabs to measure the amount of cold virus they were carrying.

The participants were divided into two groups with one group asked to gargle and clear their nose with a salt solution as they felt necessary.

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Those who did nasal irrigation and gargling with the salty solution had a shorter cold, were less likely to pass it on to their family, had faster viral clearance and were less likely to use medicines from a pharmacy.

Scientists led by the University’s Usher Institute of Population Health Sciences and Informatics carried out the trial to test the safety and feasibility of the study. Researchers say sea salt may work by boosting cells’ antiviral defense that kicks in when they are affected by a cold.

The team have now started a larger study – known as ELVIS Kids – which will involving studying the use of salt water nose drops in almost 500 children with a cold.

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“We hope to build on these early promising findings with a follow-on larger trial and with studies in high-risk populations such as those with asthma,” says Professor Aziz Sheikh from the University of Edinburgh

Dr. Sandeep Ramalingam of NHS Lothian added: “We are very encouraged by these suggestions from our pilot study that the misery caused by a cold can be effectively reduced with such a simple and cheap method.”

Reprinted from The University of Edinburgh

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