Is colloidal silver in humidifiers and nebulizers a safe and effective method to treat viral infections like COVID-19 and RSV in children? No, that's not true: A medical toxicologist and pediatrician told Lead Stories that silver has "no natural function in the body's metabolism" and that there is no scientific evidence that ingesting or inhaling colloidal silver will treat viral infections. Also, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that over-the-counter products containing colloidal silver are not safe for consumption, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) concludes that colloidal silver isn't "safe or effective for treating any disease or condition."
The claim has circulated in various forms across social media since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. One such example includes a TikTok video shared on October 26, 2022. In the video, a woman by the name of Clean Eve describes her experience with "treating" COVID:
You know I'm all about natural remedies, and I wanted to kick it [COVID] in the butt. So, I'm going to show you - there's many things I did but there's one thing that I think is the most powerful that helps me recover and this is not medical advice so I'm not claiming to be some wise doctor. I'm just a woman who likes to heal the body naturally...
So, I used a nebulizer and I put about six mls of colloidal silver because that's antiviral and antibacterial. It's very powerful... I added two drops of iodine.
Below is how the post appeared at the time of writing:
(Source: TikTok screenshot taken Fri Dec 16 22:39:07 2022 UTC)
Colloidal silver has long been touted as an alternative remedy to a number of conditions and in the years following the coronavirus pandemic, some social media users have claimed - without evidence - that colloidal silver can prevent or treat COVID. As RSV outbreaks occurred in the U.S. in the fall of 2022, some social media users also claimed colloidal silver could treat the respiratory condition. However, as of December 2022, there is no scientific evidence that suggests colloidal silver can either prevent or treat viral infections like COVID or RSV.
A nebulizer is a device used to treat asthma, COPD, and other lung diseases that is described by the National Library of Medicine as a small machine that turns liquid medicine, typically albuterol or other bronchodilators, into a mist.
Colloidal silver potentially has antimicrobial properties that may sanitize surfaces outside of the body. A 2020 study funded by the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development found that silver nanoparticles had antiviral effects against SARS-CoV-2. In a 2021 study, researchers in Taiwan found that a solution containing colloidal silver inhibited SARS-CoV-2 in a lab setting, but did not state that silver products should treat COVID in humans.
However, silver nanoparticles are a known cytotoxic agent that can cause harm when ingested or inhaled. Lead Stories reached out to Dr. Kevin Osterhoudt, a pediatric emergency medicine specialist, a medical toxicologist and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Injury, Violence and Poisoning Prevention. In an email to Lead Stories sent December 16, 2022, Osterhoudt said that there is no scientific evidence that silver-based nanoparticles should be ingested or inhaled as a therapeutic agent to treat viral infections:
Currently available colloidal silver products are considered "natural supplements" and are not FDA-regulated. Their quality, purity, and sterility may not be assured.
It makes sense that silver, as well as more well-known toxic metals like mercury, can kill germs in a test tube. The human body is way more complex than a test tube, and we still don't have good evidence that colloidal silver is suitable to prevent or weaken human infection from respiratory viruses.
Silver may be a useful antiseptic when applied to surfaces, or when used topically on the skin; it is not known to be safe or effective when taken orally or when inhaled. Silver has no natural function in the body's metabolism and it is not an essential part of good nutrition.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at the National Institutes of Health notes that colloidal silver is often touted on the internet as an alternative therapy, but the agency does not promote the internal use of silver for any purpose as it can be dangerous to health:
Colloidal silver can cause serious side effects. The most common is argyria, a bluish-gray discoloration of the skin, which is usually permanent.
Colloidal silver can also cause poor absorption of some drugs, such as certain antibiotics and thyroxine (used to treat thyroid deficiency).
In 1999, the FDA issued a final rule establishing that all over-the-counter (OTC) drug products containing colloidal silver ingredients or silver salts for internal or external use are not generally recognized as safe and effective and are misbranded. The agency has stated that it is "not aware of any substantial scientific evidence that supports the use of over-the-counter colloidal silver."
"Some recent actions FDA has taken against domestic manufacturers of colloidal silver products is recommending product be recalled, conducting inspections, subjecting the manufacturer to injunction, and issuing Warning Letters," an FDA spokesperson told Lead Stories in an email sent December 19, 2022.
Since 2021, the FDA has issued five warning letters to various companies for falsely marketing colloidal silver or silver products as potential treatments for conditions like COVID. The Federal Trade Commission in 2020 similarly warned companies against selling colloidal silver products as COVID treatment.
Ingestion of colloidal silver can cause argyira, a buildup of silver in the body's tissue that causes a bluish-gray discoloration. Most famously was the case of Paul Karason, known on the internet as "Papa Smurf" for his blue-hued skin caused by consuming colloidal silver. Other side effects from using colloidal silver products may include neurologic problems, kidney damage, stomach distress, headaches, and fatigue, according to Pennsylvania State University.
Additional fact checks related to COVID-19 vaccines can be found here.