Rice vinegar bottles at the production line at the Jiangsu Hengshun Group plant in Zhenjiang, in China's Jiangsu province. ( AFP / Hector Retamal)

Inhaling vinegar cannot treat Covid-19 symptoms

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Multiple posts shared repeatedly on Facebook and TikTok claim that inhaling vinegar can treat symptoms of Covid-19 by clearing sputum from a patient's airways. The claim is false. Health experts say the claim is “baseless” and the method “can be potentially harmful, both directly and indirectly”.

The claim was posted here on Facebook on August 21, 2021.

It purports to be a testimony from a Covid-19 survivor.

It has been shared more than 150 times.

The post's Malaysian-language caption translates in part as: “Want to let friends know, when possible if we're infected covid stage 3.. don't go yet to the hospital, medicate the traditional way first ...

"I was also in stage 3, went to the hospital with my own car, and was given oxygen. I asked to go back home because my family members were all sick at home. Praise be to God I’m allowed back. The next day I got worse ...

"I remember there was vinegar in the kitchen. I poured vinegar on a towel, stuffed it up my nose, breathed in repeatedly, it really stings. After that, put the towel on my mouth, covered my nose ... breathed in through my mouth, held it 3 times, it smarts. You may feel like coughing and it feels uneasy on the lungs, but just hold on. Then let go of the cough entirely, breathe in again..let the vinegar enter the mouth..it feels hot, sour, then cough... Praise be to God, a lot of clear white sputum comes out from the lungs and throat..then it just feels lighter and you can breathe..apparently, the white sputum has the covid virus that covers the airways in our lungs. Praise be to God now I no longer feel stuck, breathless, tired and have any difficulty breathing".

Screenshot of the misleading Facebook post taken on September 17, 2021

The same claim has been shared more 130 times after it appeared on Facebook here and here.

A video of a man making a similar claim was shared on Facebook here and here, and on TikTok here.

The claim is false, according to health experts.

“It can be potentially harmful, both directly and indirectly," for Covid-19 patients to inhale vinegar, said Dr Helmy Haja Mydin, a physician specialising in respiratory medicine at Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur, told AFP.

"Directly: vinegar contains acetic acid, which if inhaled may be corrosive to the airways, oral cavity, oesophagus, and even the eyes. Indirectly: it delays obtaining appropriate, potentially life-threatening treatment," he said.

Dr Anuradha P. Radhakrishnan — an infectious disease physician at Malaysia's Selayang Hospital — said: "[It is] baseless [to claim] vinegar aids in treatment or prevention of Covid-19. [There is] no reliable convincing data to support these claims".

Health Desk, a global hub for evidence-based research on Covid-19 created by non-profit organisation Meedan, responded to the false vinegar claim here.

“Vinegar, a mixture of acetic acid and water, is mildly acidic. Different types of vinegar can contain other substances for flavour and colour. Medical professionals advise caution when rinsing with substances that could irritate sensitive membranes in the nose, mouth, and throat.

"Over-rinsing or rinsing with harsh substances can cause harm rather than health benefits. Nasal rinses and mouthwashes should follow medical and dental guidance. Covid-19 prevention and treatment methods should follow public health and medical guidance".

AFP has debunked various false claims that inhaling steam can cure Covid-19 -- including here, here, here and here.