In the face of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, we’re all looking for solutions to stay healthy—and rightly so! Washing your hands and practicing social distancing are two proven pieces of advice that are more important than ever. Other theories floating around on the internet aren’t so sound. One gem of advice popular on the Internet is a doozy: Putting antibiotic ointment (like Neosporin) up your nose in an effort to kill germs and keep you from getting sick. But does this actually work?
The short answer is no. “The application of an antibiotic ointment into the nostrils to prevent infection is not going to prevent the transmission of viruses, which are the most common airborne infection spread between people,” says Erich Voigt, M.D., an ear, nose, and throat surgeon at NYU Langone Health. “Viruses can enter the body and cause infection by entering the eyes, the nose, or mouth. Antibiotics are not effective at all in preventing or fighting viruses.”
That said, the antibiotic ointment isn’t completely useless for keeping you healthy if you’re, say, on a plane. “The moisturizing effect of a topical antibiotic, or of a saline gel or saline spray may, make the nasal mucosa less prone to a viral particle entering the mucosa.” In other words, it can help fight desert-dry plane air, which can dry out the inside of your nose and cause microscopic tears that make you more vulnerable to viruses.
How to fight germs in public
If you’re looking to prevent yourself from getting sick, forget the Neosporin and focus on top notch hygiene techniques. Voigt also says you should “avoid touching unclean surfaces and then touching the nose or rubbing the eyes” since this transmits germs from the surfaces to you. Wipe down surfaces you touch (like doorknobs) with disinfectant wipes.
According to Maggie Berghoff, functional medicine expert and nurse practitioner, there are other things you can do to keep from getting sick. These include boosting your immune system with fruits and veggies, and avoiding sugar and simple carbohydrates such as pasta and breads. The last bit may be particularly helpful, if painful to hear, because “they can cause inflammation in your body and plummet your immune system, allowing you to be more likely to catch whatever illnesses are doing around,” she says.