WARNING: I AM NOT CLAIMING THE HAIR-DRYER METHOD WORKS
I AM EXPLAINIING HOW YOU CAN HURT YOURSELF IF IT DOESN’T WORK, AND ALTERNATIVELY WHY/HOW IT WORKS IF IT DOES
I did this because I have a credible friend who insists this method “cured” her infection in about an hour (sigh…I know). I felt that this method had been declared “bad information” without persuasive enough reasoning to be preventitive, and I wanted to detail why it could not work and how you could harm yourself (which I’ve done). However, while doing research I was surprised to find (in my opinion) a plausible mechanism for how and why it could work.
Quick Summary: How it COULD WOrkFor Those Short on Time
- The mucous membrane’s moisture is needed to capture pathogens/particles, and carry them away (the immune response role of the membrane)
- Cornonavirus thrives/flourishes in the moist condition of the mucous membrane1,2, and thus will (unless stopped by the immune system) travel down the windpipe to the peripheral branches of the respiratory tree and lung tissue, which is life-threatening. This aggressive behavior is why the virus is more deadly than other viruses.
- The mucuous membrane, over a period of time, dries out under 40% RH (relative humidity)
- Conventional wisdom (which is that we need to keep our mucous membranes wet for them to work – confirmed by a 2019 Yale study) therefore should predict that this method would make the infection worse, as the means of capturing and removing pathogens has been crippled
- IF THIS METHOD HAS EFFICACY, it is probably that by temporarily and quickly using the warm/hot air of a hairdryer, the mucous membrane begins to dry, reducing the infection’s intensity enough such that the immune system can get the upper hand: as the volume of mucous is reduced, the viral load is also reduced. Additionally, it may be more difficult for the virus to travel further and thus expand the infection in dryer conditions.
- IF THIS METHOD DOES NOT WORK, it could do harm because the mucous membrane plays an important role in the body’s immune response, and heat will dry the cilia, possibly causing permanent damage as well as allowing the infection to continue/accelerate. There are surely other bad outcomes possible.
Cringe – You Did WHAT?
On its face, the idea sounded so insane and stupid I cringed at what I was being told: not only did she stick a hair dryer in her open mouth/nasal cavity to treat her Coronavirus symptoms, but the infection was “cured” (a strong word) in about an hour.
I told her that was ridiculous and she said, “well it happened” and asked for what reason I thought it wouldn’t work.
She always struck me as smart, level-headed, and honest. I didn’t think she was making up a story, so I explained a few cognitive distortions possibly at play (confirmation bias?), but she would not budge from her claim. I was determined to prove her wrong, and began researching the claim.
Ideally we’d have data on hair dryer successes and failures, but that’s unlikely to happen. If you have tried the method, please post in the comments.
Snopes – Fact-Checking Resource
To see the reasons physicians cited for discounting the method, I turned to fact-checking site Snopes, where the verdict was obvious (“FALSE” in large, green, rubber-stamped letters), but the supporting argument was surprisingly weak.
The Snopes writer stated:
“No reputable medical professionals or institutions recommend people breathe hot air to kill the coronavirus”.
Medical professionals, for the most part, only recommend conventional therapies lest they lose their license and/or cause harm. Even medical marijuana, which has an abundance of affirmative efficacy data, will not get a recommendation from medical professionals in many US states.
The Snopes writer also offered her own mangled reasoning that made me feel like this review was a very lazy attempt by someone who had never taken a microbiology, cell biology, or genetics 101 class.
Conventional Wisdom Tells Us Drying the Mucous Membrane Should Make Us MORE Vulnerable to Infection
It’s no secret that the mucuous membrane needs its moisture in order to capture, filter, and remove pathogens and foreign particles. A 2019 Yale study probed the role of humidity in viral infections and found that the immune system is more vulnerable to the flu virus in low humidity.
So end of story, she’s wrong, right? Not so fast.
The hairdryer method still hadn’t been ABSOLUTELY disqualified. The method doesn’t lower humidity for the entire course of the infection, as the Yale study did, but only for a brief period of time, and as a hot, forceful blast. What if this crazy method was working like chemotherapy or radiation in that it was temporarily harming the body to do even greater harm to the pathogen?
Developing a Hypothesis for Efficacy: What Happens If the Mucous Membrane is Dried?
How the Hairdryer Might Work IF It Indeed Does
There are a few important prerequisite facts:
- The mucous membrane uses its moistness to capture and remove particles, allergens, viruses and bacteria
- The mucous membrane dries out if we breath in air below 40% RH (relative humidity) over a period of time (Source: Condair Group)
- The infection spreads by way of the mucous membrane and is not limited to the lungs, and can travel from the nose to the rectum. (Source: Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, the chief clinical officer for the Providence Health System)
- But with Coronavirus, the virus is so aggressive that the mucous becomes a highway for it – and whereas in some individuals the virus stays in the upper airway, in others it makes it down the windpipe to the peripheral branches of the respiratory tree and lung tissue, which is life-threatening. Thus, the mucous membrane plays a role assisting both host and pathogen. Reducing the volume of mucous could slow down the virus enough that the immune system can catch up before its too late.
- Even cheap, small hair dryers are considered ideal tools for reducing relative humidity – in a manual for teaching laboratory demonstrations, University of Rochester’s Electrical Engineering department refers to hair-dryers as “standard equipment for anyone serious”.
- Therefore, the hairdryer, by reducing the moisture/amount of virus/paths virus can travel, inflammation is reduced and the battle the immune system must fight becomes incrementally easier. At some point, enough mucous has been dried that the battle becomes winnable for the immune system (a “tipping point” scenario).
- Tipping point scenarios are where we expect to see an inverse linear relationship between the strength of the immune system and death rate, which is a well-known characteristic for this pandemic.
To recap, typically the mucous membrane is used to capture and remove a virus like this. But with Coronavirus, the virus needs the moist mucous membrane and by drying the membrane, the virus’ virility is lessened, and for some people, this could give the immune system enough advantage to make a life or death difference. If this hypothesis is accurate, I wouldn’t call it a “cure”, as it is one factor of many that determine the course the infection plays out. Furthermore, it should be noted that drying the membrane, like chemotherapy or radiation, is damaging the body in order to fight an enemy, and without clinical trials/studies we wouldn’t have data on side-effects or high risk scenarios.
My friend was never tested for Coronavirus and assumed she had it because of her symptoms and that her boss, who she was in contact with, did test positive and die from Coronavirus. Some states have a very high negative result – Florida, for example, has ~90% negative, whereas California is about 15%. There are other viruses going around.