The expelled mucus is generated in response to the garlic irritant
Racking up millions of views on TikTok, several videos have recently gone viral in which people demonstrate the supposed “health benefits” of sticking a clove of garlic up their nose to clear out the nasal cavities and push out excess mucus, for example when suffering from a cold. This claim is FALSE. It is true that putting garlic up one’s nose makes mucus come out, as the videos show, but the mucus that comes out is not mucus that has “accumulated” there, as the tutorials claim. Rather, that mucus is what the body has produced in response to garlic’s aggressive biochemical compounds – such as allicin and diallyl disulfide – which can irritate the nose. Furthermore, a garlic clove could end up getting stuck in the nasal passage and require surgical intervention.
Garlic cleans your sinuses
Inserting objects into one’s nose “is not a good practice”, according to Jacinto García Lorenzo, head of the Otorhinolaryngology unit in Barcelona’s Hospital del Mar, since it might irritate the nasal cavities. What’s more, the mucus that is pushed out is not the mucus that had been accumulating there, but the mucus that the nose has produced in response to the aggravation caused by inserting an object which attacks the mucosa.
“There is no scientific evidence to support the use of garlic in the nostrils as a mucus cleanser”, the press department of the Spanish Association of Otorhinolaryngology, Head and Neck Nursing (AEEORL) wrote in an email to Verificat. They added that “the scent of garlic neither cleans the nose, nor eliminates sinusitis”.
Other fact-checking agencies that also belong to the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), such as Thip, have already shown that the rumour is false. “There is no evidence of any […] mucolytic properties yet observed in garlic”, explains Priyajeet Panigrahi, an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist at Maxdent de Bhubaneswar hospital in India, in Thip’s fact check. Additionally, in another fact check on the use of garlic to treat nasal congestion, the same agency adds that “using it for nasal decongestion is not recommended as it can irritate the nasal mucosa and aggravate symptoms”.
Mucus is a defence mechanism
The expulsion of mucus in response to contact with the vegetables “occurs because garlic is an irritant of the nasal cavity”, says García of Barcelona’s Hospital del Mar, adding that putting any object up our nose would probably have the same effect: the nose “would defend itself by producing mucus”. The AEEORL spokesperson adds that inserting this vegetable up one’s nose might “cause the protective function [of the mucus] against viruses and other agents to diminish” and therefore make us more vulnerable in the face of possible infections.
What’s more, the practice brings a variety of risks with it: “injuring oneself (…), or even the piece of garlic being able to impact the inside of the nose, going inside and getting stuck there”, are some possibilities, García points out, adding that it is a common emergency seen in clinical practice, especially in infants and children.
What can be done about excess mucus
When suffering from excess mucus, Vall d’Hebron Hospital in Barcelona recommends nasal irrigation with saline solution or salt water, drinking a lot of fluids, and taking hot showers or baths to keep the nasal passages moist. These techniques “are not only safe, but healthy”, García says. The same recommendations are also made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States.