Home Remedies Not to Try for COVID-19

Lisa Esposito
·10 min read

Why risk your health or waste your time and money?

People are anxious about the coronavirus and eager to do whatever it takes to reduce their risk of infection or to treat potential symptoms. In this uncertain atmosphere, it's easy for false or unproven claims about so-called treatments or cures for COVID-19 to flourish.

Some do-it-yourself treatments are largely harmless but ineffective against COVID-19. However, other touted remedies -- like UV light to skin or silver solution products -- can be dangerous. Safeguard your health by taking a pass on ineffective and potentially harmful home "remedies."

UV light on your skin

Some medical facilities use high-intensity UVC devices, which use the highest-energy type of ultraviolet rays to disinfect surfaces against a variety of germs, including the novel coronavirus. UV sanitation devices, which are operated by trained professionals, work by damaging RNA and DNA in microbes -- not the kind of damage you want your body exposed to.

"UV light, in particular UVC light, can inactivate viruses in the air, water and on nonporous surfaces," says Dr. Yufang Lin, an integrative medicine physician at Cleveland Clinic. "However, direct application to the skin and eyes can cause damage contributing to flash burns." Eye pain, soreness, tearing, light sensitivity and possible vision loss -- similar to staring directly at the sun for too long -- can occur, Lin warns.

Drinking hand sanitizer

It's called "hand" sanitizer for a reason. Taking any antiseptic skin product by mouth is dangerous. Unfortunately, poison control centers nationwide are seeing spikes in episodes of hand sanitizer ingestion.

Drinking hand sanitizer that contains methanol, in particular, can be deadly. The U.S. has seen an increase in hospitalizations from ingesting methanol-containing products, cases of blindness and several deaths since the pandemic began.

Check labels on hand sanitizer products before buying and keep any type of hand sanitizer out of small children's reach.

Alcohol overuse

Overdoing it with liquor, wine or beer may be tempting in this dreary pandemic. However, alcoholic beverages are not home remedies for preventing or treating COVID-19 -- despite whatever you've heard about "quarantinis."

If anything, rising alcohol use during these challenging times is putting people's health at risk. Compared to this time last year, women have increased their heavy drinking episodes -- four or more drinks within two hours -- by 41%, according to a study published Sept. 29 in the journal JAMA Network Open.

Overall, alcohol consumption increased 14% among adults over 30 years old, compared with the same time period last year, according to the study by the Rand Corporation, a nonprofit research organization dedicated to developing solutions to public policy challenges.

Skin spraying with bleach

Bleach is meant to sanitize inanimate objects, not for inhaling or spraying on skin. However, in a national survey of nonrecommended, high-risk practices used to prevent COVID-19 infection, 18% of U.S. adults said they had used household cleaning products or disinfectants like bleach on their hands or skin. In addition, 10% tried misting their bodies with these products, according to the June 12 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bleach is corrosive and can irritate your skin. Accidentally getting bleach in your eyes can cause burning and permanent damage. Immediately rinse bleach-exposed skin areas or eyes with water and seek medical evaluation for possible bleach injuries to your eyes.

Chlorine dioxide products

AKA "Miracle Mineral Solution," "Master Mineral Solution" and other brands, chlorine dioxide-containing products are among those targeted in the Food and Drug Administration's Operation Quack Hack. Chlorine dioxide is a bleach-like cleaning agent formed by mixing sodium chlorite solution with a citric acid like lemon juice.

Drinking chlorine dioxide products has caused serious adverse events like these reported to the FDA:

-- Respiratory failure.

-- Abnormal heart rhythm, or arrhythmia.

-- Life-threatening low blood pressure from dehydration.

-- Acute liver failure.

-- Low red blood cell counts requiring transfusion.

-- Severe vomiting and diarrhea.

So far, the FDA has identified more than 700 fraudulent and unproven medical products related to COVID-19, the FDA's associate commissioner for regulatory affairs, Judy McMeekin, revealed in an agency podcast.

Garlic overload

Eating plenty of garlic makes social distancing easier, for sure. However, the bulb in itself has not been shown to protect against COVID-19.

"Garlic is a healthy food that may have some antimicrobial properties," according to public advice messaging from the World Health Organization. "However, there is no evidence from the current outbreak that eating garlic has protected people against the new coronavirus."

Lin notes that garlic (like ginger) has antiviral and antibacterial properties, and can help support a healthy immune response. "However, it important to pay attention to how much you are consuming," she adds. "In excess, garlic and ginger can increase a person's risk of bleeding -- particularly for those who are on blood thinners."

Saline nasal irrigation

If done properly, using a squeeze bottle or neti pot filled with a saline-and-water solution can help clear nasal passages of mucus, dust particles and allergens. But the jury's still out on whether saline irrigation has any protective effects against the coronavirus.

A few small studies on viruses other than the coronavirus purport that doing saline nose rinses decreases the amount of measureable virus, says Dr. Joseph Bocchini Jr., director of Willis-Knighton Children's Health Services in Shreveport, Louisiana, and a member of the pediatric faculty at Tulane University in New Orleans.

"But whether the saline washes just wash some of the virus away but really doesn't change the course of the infection is unclear," says Bocchini, who is also a former president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. "So, it would not be routinely recommended to use saline washes for management of a viral respiratory infection. Certainly there's no data on whether that would change the course of COVID-19."

If done incorrectly, saline rinses may cause inflammation, Bocchini adds. And if irrigation equipment isn't effectively cleaned and becomes contaminated, it could be associated with bacterial or fungal infections.

Gargling with household disinfectants

Do not poison yourself by gargling with household disinfectants like bleach, whether pure or diluted.

Gargling with safe solutions like salt water may be fine in general, although unproven against COVID-19. However, for a respiratory virus like COVID-19 that spreads from person to person through airborne droplets, it makes sense to avoid gargling when other people are nearby, like in a shared restroom.

"Gargling with antiseptic agents -- such as chlorohexidine or alcohol-based mouth rinse -- can help control gingivitis," Lin says. "However, long-term use can negatively impact gut microbiome, which is critical to your overall health. I do not suggest doing this as routine but only at the recommendation of your medical or dental provider."

Silver solution

Colloidal silver -- small silver particles in liquid form -- is among the fraudulent products included in a warning letter from the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission to offending companies.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health warns that colloidal silver can cause serious side effects:

-- Bluish-gray skin discoloration, usually permanent.

-- Poor drug absorption for certain antibiotics and thyroid medications.

"The FDA is particularly concerned that products that claim to cure, mitigate, treat or prevent serious diseases like COVID-19 may cause consumers to delay or stop appropriate medical treatment, leading to serious and life-threatening harm," the FDA website notes.

Essential oils, tinctures and herbal teas

Essential oils like lavender or peppermint smell nice but they don't cure COVID-19. Although many find it calming, aromatherapy with herbal essential oils or tinctures is ineffective against the novel coronavirus. Herbal teas may also be soothing -- but not protective against COVID-19 as promoted by certain brands.

Essential oils, tinctures and herbal teas are among fraudulent COVID-19 products targeted by the FDA. These are just a few of the misleading claims to consumers highlighted in FDA warning letters to certain aromatherapy manufacturers:

-- A wide range of essential oils have been clinically proven to possess antiviral properties. (FALSE)

-- Essential oils can boost your immune system naturally to fight coronavirus. (FALSE)

-- Branded blends of essential oils can treat pneumonia-like symptoms caused by the coronavirus. (FALSE)

If you're having respiratory symptoms such as persistent cough or shortness of breath, seek medical attention, doctors advise.

Vitamin C supplements

Although vitamin C is an important nutrient with anti-inflammatory action, there's little data that vitamin C supplements can help prevent or treat a cold, much less COVID-19.

"Vitamin C is certainly something that has been controversial for a number of years in terms of its ability to modify a viral respiratory infection," Bocchini says. "We still do not have confirmatory evidence that vitamin C in any dosing range has that outcome."

Vitamin D mega-doses

While having enough vitamin D in your body is healthy, overdoing it is counterproductive.

"COVID-19 affects individuals differently. Some people have severe (aftereffects) whereas others appear to have minimal symptoms," Lin says. "The strength of a person's immune system may play a role here. Vitamin D is a hormone that not only impacts your mood and bone health, it also has direct impact on your immune response."

Having low levels of vitamin D has been associated with increased risk of acute respiratory infections, Lin continues: "If someone is at risk for low vitamin D, or known to have low vitamin D, taking a supplement to support a healthy level can help. However, taking it in excess can cause a toxic level of vitamin D which can contribute to high calcium levels. These high levels can lead to kidney stones, confusion, muscle weakness and irregular heart rate."

Use common sense and follow standard guidelines for vitamin D, by getting the appropriate amount of sunshine and following a healthy diet, Bocchini advises. "If people have any questions about vitamin D, they should really speak to their physician to determine if there's any reason to evaluate their vitamin D level," he says.

Waiting for cold weather

Relying on seasonal changes to protect you from COVID-19 is only wishful thinking. Brisk fall weather or an approaching cold winter, in themselves, are unlikely to turn the pandemic around.

"Cold weather and snow cannot kill the COVID-19 virus," the WHO emphasizes. "The normal human body temperature remains around (97.7 degrees to 98.6 degrees) regardless of the external temperature or weather," according to the WHO website. "The most effective way to protect yourself against the new coronavirus is by frequently cleaning your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or washing them with soap and water."

Hydroxychloroquine

Asking your doctor for a prescription for hydroxychloroquine to prevent or treat COVID-19 won't help. Hydroxychloroquine is an antimalarial drug, which patients with lupus also use to manage the chronic disease. Despite early hype about hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus cure, on June 15, the FDA revoked its emergency approval of the drug as a COVID-19 treatment.

The FDA previously issued a warning that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, a similar drug, might cause dangerous abnormal heart rhythms. Several studies have concluded that the drugs were ineffective in terms of treating COVID-19.

"We have adequate evidence that hydroxychloroquine has no role in the management of COVID-19 infection," Bocchini says. "There's ample data for us to not recommend it for outpatient therapy."

Antibiotics

Antibiotics treat bacterial infections -- they're useless against viruses like the novel coronavirus. That's why primary care providers wouldn't prescribe antibiotics to treat COVID-19 at home.

Antibiotics are powerful drugs that come with potential side effects including severe diarrhea and allergic reactions. The overuse of antibiotics can lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant "superbugs." And don't be tempted to take unused antibiotics from a previous prescription -- never a good idea -- as a possible COVID-19 remedy.

Methods that work

Until an effective COVID-19 vaccine is available, taking these proven measures is the best way to protecting against the spread of the novel coronavirus:

-- Masking.

-- Hand-washing.

-- Physical distancing.

Unhelpful COVID-19 remedies

Unproven -- and in some cases harmful -- remedies promoted for COVID-19 include:

-- UV light on your skin.

-- Drinking hand sanitizer.

-- Alcohol overuse.

-- Skin spraying with bleach.

-- Chlorine dioxide products.

-- Saline nasal irrigation.

-- Gargling with household disinfectants.

-- Silver solution.

-- Essential oils, tinctures and herbal teas.

-- Garlic overload.

-- Vitamin C supplements.

-- Vitamin-D mega-doses.

-- Waiting for cold weather.

-- Hydroxychloroquine.

-- Antibiotics.