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Asthma group warns against social media trend of inhaling hydrogen peroxide to treat coronavirus

Asthma and Allergy Foundation calls action ‘concerning and dangerous,’ emphasizes harm to lungs

A nebulizer turns liquid medications into mist. (iStock)
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A leading asthma patient group has issued a warning against an unproven coronavirus treatment circulating on social media that is leading some people to post videos of themselves breathing in hydrogen peroxide through a nebulizer.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America called the action “concerning and dangerous” in a Tuesday blog post, emphasizing that it will neither treat nor prevent the virus and is harmful to the lungs.

“DO NOT put hydrogen peroxide into your nebulizer and breathe it in. This is dangerous!” the foundation wrote.

Coronavirus misinformation has proliferated on social media throughout the pandemic even as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have all taken steps to stop it. It includes unproven claims that hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug, or ivermectin, which is used to kill parasites in animals and humans, could knock out the virus. Some experts, including Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, contend that such misinformation was partly responsible for Americans refusing vaccination, leading to additional coronavirus cases and deaths.

Hydrogen peroxide is an antiseptic more commonly used for minor cuts, burns and scrapes. It is also used as a whitener in some toothpastes, and as a common household cleaning agent. But it can be poisonous to humans if swallowed in strong enough concentrations. The foundation advises against inhaling it through a nebulizer, a relatively inexpensive device that turns medications into breathable mist.

But those recommendations have not stopped some people from using hydrogen peroxide in a nebulizer and documenting the experience online. Melanie Carver, the foundation’s chief mission officer, said the group has tracked related misinformation in Facebook, YouTube and TikTok posts that are reaching hundreds of thousands of views. A now-deactivated TikTok account titled “h202therapy” showed a video of a child on a nebulizer with a caption suggesting hydrogen peroxide was being used, Carver said.

“Before this information spreads further, we want people with asthma to know how important it is to only use their prescribed asthma treatments in their nebulizers,” Carver said in an email.

A major funder of the anti-vaccine movement has made millions selling natural health products

Throughout the pandemic, a cottage industry of online businesses and naturopathic treatment centers has pushed bogus coronavirus treatments.

The Federal Trade Commission has sent hundreds of warning letters to organizations over the promotion of unproven coronavirus treatments involving substances such as elderberry, iodine, mushrooms and horse milk.

Hydrogen peroxide figures prominently in several of them. Dr. Brownstein’s Holistic Medicine in Michigan received a warning related to a treatment involving iodine, hydrogen peroxide and vitamins. A California-based business called Gordon Medical has advertised an in-office nebulized hydrogen peroxide treatment for both preventing and treating the virus. A Nevada-based business called StuphCorp has recommended “nebulizing hydrogen peroxide during this pandemic,” according to the FTC.

Many sources appear to be promoting hydrogen peroxide, but it’s unclear what is driving the social media trend.

When asked where the misinformation appears to be originating, a foundation representative cited Joseph Mercola, a businessman and osteopathic physician. In April 2020, Mercola posted a video saying “hydrogen peroxide treatment can successfully treat most viral respiratory illnesses, including coronavirus,” according to the advocacy group Center for Countering Digital Hate. The video was shared on Facebook 4,600 times, the group said.

In an email, Mercola said: “The solution you are referring to is primarily saline, with highly diluted hydrogen peroxide. It is important to ensure that people use saline to dilute the hydrogen peroxide to .1%; 30X lower concentration than standard peroxide found at the local pharmacy. High concentrations of hydrogen peroxide should not be used.”

In response to Mercola’s comment, Carver emphasized that coronavirus patients should only be using prescribed treatments, and noted that the recommendation to nebulize hydrogen peroxide could be particularly dangerous for people with asthma.

“There are different concentrations available for purchase, and people may be using dangerous concentrations of hydrogen peroxide in an attempt to protect themselves from COVID-19,” Carver said in an email.

Mercola’s support for treatments utilizing hydrogen peroxide appears to predate the pandemic. In a 2006 YouTube video, which has 1.4 million views, Mercola described hydrogen peroxide as a “simple trick to treat the cold or flu.”

In a different video from April 2020, removed from YouTube but archived on the website BitChute, Mercola describes how to nebulize hydrogen peroxide.

Imran Ahmed, chief executive of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, said he blames Mercola for advancing hydrogen peroxide as a coronavirus treatment. He called hydrogen peroxide “a really volatile chemical and a bleaching agent,” and expressed concern that even saline-diluted solutions could be harmful if used instead of legitimate treatments or vaccines.

“This is not just about the primary effect of telling people that hydrogen peroxide can affect covid. It means people will reject other therapies when they are in trouble,” Ahmed said. “It means people get sick and, rather than getting the treatment they need, they will start looking on Amazon for a nebulizer and hydrogen peroxide.”