Essentials in saline pharmacology for nasal or respiratory hygiene in times of COVID-19

Suzy Huijghebaert, Hoste Levi, Guido Vanham

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Purpose Nasal irrigation or nebulizing aerosol of isotonic or hypertonic saline is a traditional method for respiratory or nasal care. A recent small study in outpatients with COVID-19 without acute respiratory distress syndrome suggests substantial symptom resolution. We therefore analyzed pharmacological/pharmacodynamic effects of isotonic or hypertonic saline, relevant to SARS-CoV-2 infection and respiratory care. Methods Mixed search method. Results Due to its wetting properties, saline achieves an improved spreading of alveolar lining fluid and has been shown to reduce bio-aerosols and viral load. Saline provides moisture to respiratory epithelia and gels mucus, promotes ciliary beating, and improves mucociliary clearance. Coronaviruses and SARS-CoV-2 damage ciliated epithelium in the nose and airways. Saline inhibits SARS-CoV-2 replication in Vero cells; possible interactions involve the viral ACE2-entry mechanism (chloride-dependent ACE2 configuration), furin and 3CLpro (inhibition by NaCl), and the sodium channel ENaC. Saline shifts myeloperoxidase activity in epithelial or phagocytic cells to produce hypochlorous acid. Clinically, nasal or respiratory airway care with saline reduces symptoms of seasonal coronaviruses and other common cold viruses. Its use as aerosol reduces hospitalization rates for bronchiolitis in children. Preliminary data suggest symptom reduction in symptomatic COVID-19 patients if saline is initiated within 48 h of symptom onset. Conclusions Saline interacts at various levels relevant to nasal or respiratory hygiene (nasal irrigation, gargling or aerosol). If used from the onset of common cold symptoms, it may represent a useful add-on to first-line interventions for COVID-19. Formal evaluation in mild COVID-19 is desirable as to establish efficacy and optimal treatment regimens.

Original languageEnglish
Article number021-03102-3
JournalEuropean Journal of Clinical Pharmacology
Issue number9
Pages (from-to)1275-1293
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Saline
  • Sodium chloride
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • COVID-19
  • Mucociliary clearance
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome


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