Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: Hydrogen peroxide will cure a variety of ailments.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2006]
Origins: Hydrogen peroxide is a first aid staple in many households, routinely used to disinfect small wounds. Bottles of it are readily available at drug stores, with the compound formulated for home use vended in dilute form of 3% to 10%. Hydrogen peroxide also finds application as an antiseptic gargle, a clothes and hair bleach, and an aid to ear wax removal. A paste of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda is used as a tooth scrub, and hydrogen peroxide is the major component of any number of tooth-whitening products.
Higher concentrations (30% or greater) of hydrogen peroxide are used in industry as a bleach for textiles and paper, as a component of rocket fuels, and for producing foam rubber and organic chemicals. Hydrogen peroxide in these strengths is dangerous for the untrained to handle or come into contact with. Spills of industrial-strength peroxide in transit have resulted in freeway and rail line closures, because at such concentrations hydrogen peroxide presents an imminent danger of fire and explosion, and inhalation of its fumes can send people to the hospital.
While some of the peroxide-related tips enumerated in the example quoted above have previously appeared on other Internet-circulated lists, this particular compilation seems to have begun its
The two possible exceptions to the "no ill effects" pronouncement are the tips that involve putting hydrogen peroxide into direct contact with mucous membranes: spraying it into the nose to clear plugged sinuses or combat colds, and adding it to a douche to prevent yeast infections. While we don't know if such suggestions work as touted, given the Centers for Disease Control's statement that "When used for household disinfectant purposes (3% to 5%), [hydrogen peroxide] is mildly irritating to the skin and mucous membranes," we'd have to advise that trying out either tip might not be such a good idea.
Of the list's suggestions that can be vetted, no less an authority on germs than
As for killing foot fungus, putting the run on boils, curing canker sores, or cleaning out infections, it is not known if hydrogen peroxide is effective for these purposes. Soaking an infected wound in hydrogen peroxide several times throughout the day for five or ten minutes at a crack is probably not a good idea, though, because the solution can damage tissue if left in contact with skin for any length of time.
Two additional health-related uses for hydrogen peroxide should also be examined, even though neither of them was mentioned in this list of tips: injecting and swallowing hydrogen peroxide. While such treatments do have their advocates (who in turn claim such dosings will cure everything from AIDS to cancer), both uses amount to quackery. The proponents of "oxygen therapy" assert they are boosting the body's ability to destroy disease-causing cells, but there is no medical proof to support such use. Moreover, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), both such uses are dangerous.
Hydrogen peroxide can be harmful if swallowed. Drinking the concentrated solutions sold in some health food stores (35%, or "food grade" hydrogen peroxide) can cause vomiting, severe burns of the throat and stomach, and even death. Direct skin contact or breathing the vapors of hydrogen peroxide can also be harmful.The ACS also notes "The medical literature contains several accounts of patient deaths attributed directly to oxygen therapy."
Hydrogen peroxide injections can have dangerous side effects. High blood levels of hydrogen peroxide can create oxygen bubbles that block blood flow and cause gangrene and death. Destruction of blood cells has also been reported after intravenous injection of hydrogen peroxide.
One such case was the
As to what to make of the numerous claims asserted of the hydrogen peroxide, in the main, most external uses of household-strength hydrogen peroxide are relatively harmless (if not necessarily helpful), but internal use should be shunned. Gargle with it, wipe wounds with it, foam the wax out of your ears with it, bleach your hair and your clothes with it, but don't drink it or let someone shoot it into your veins.
Barbara "dose of common sense" Mikkelson
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