Does TikTok's Citrus Hack Actually Stop Any Coughing? Here's What We Know

Some health advice on social media can be downright sketchy, like pouring undiluted hydrogen peroxide in your ears to remove ear wax and shoving garlic cloves up your nose to clear a snuffy schnozzle. Both don't come recommended by health professionals (spoiler alert). They can be added to the list of health advice on TikTok that straight up lied to you.   

But a citrus hack posted by Sopha Rush on the platform, involving an orange, sea salt, honey, and onion water, might have some truth to it (we said "some"). Rush starts off the video by saying that she used this remedy to help soothe a cough both of her boys had come down with. "All you need is one orange [cut in half], you poke some holes in it, add some sea salt [on top], pop it in the microwave for about two minutes or you can put it on the stove," explained the TikTok user. After removing the orange from the oven, Rush adds a generous dash of honey over the orange halves before squeezing the juice into a bowl. "We did add some onion water to ours and gave it to the boys. You can do it more than once a day," added the mother of two. 

Steaming oranges with sea salt to fight a cough is not a new hack; it's been around for a while. The benefit might have to do with the fruit's vitamin C content. 

Vitamin C can be beneficial in fighting colds and coughs

Perhaps there's a reason your mother touted the benefits of vitamin C whenever you felt like you were coming down with something. According to Dr. Silvia Robalino, a board-certified internal medicine doctor at HCA Florida Mercy Hospital, "We experience inflammatory responses in our body when we have a common cold because the immune system is typically attacked by a virus," adding that vitamin C is vital to proper immune cell function and the overall health of the immune system (via Health).

Vitamin C has been linked to reducing the length of a cold, per a 2013 study. Although there's not much by way of data to support the claims of a cough stopping because of vitamin C, there is a 2021 study published in Frontiers in Immunology that talks about the use of citrus juice to help combat inflammation in the body. 

However, Dr. Taz Bhatia, a professor of integrative medicine at Emory University, had something different to say about orange juice, per Prevention. "It [orange juice] contains citric acid, which irritates the lining of your already-inflamed throat," explained the doctor. This is why TikTok trends can be riskier than you realize: There's always more than meets the eye when it comes to such viral health hacks. But what about the other ingredients? 

Sea salt and honey could help soothe a cough

This is probably not the first time you've seen someone recommend honey to stop coughing. "Hot liquids with honey can soothe and treat cough for short-term periods," shared Dr. Stephen Russell, a physician at the University of Alabama at Birmingham department of medicine (via Everyday Health). 

According to infectious disease specialist Dr. Pritish K. Tosh, honey could be as effective as the cough-relief medicine dextromethorphan (per Mayo Clinic). "In one study, children ages 1 to 5 with upper respiratory tract infections were given up to 2 teaspoons (10 milliliters) of honey at bedtime. The honey seemed to reduce nighttime coughing and improve sleep." However, Dr. Kosh warns against giving honey to children younger than one year, as they could develop infant botulism, a kind of food poisoning that occurs in babies when harmful bacteria get into their system. 

As for salt, it is often used with warm water as a gargling solution to relieve sore throats. It also clears mucus, which can be beneficial when dealing with a cough (via Healthline). Onion water, the final ingredient in this TikTok hack, has mixed reactions from experts, just like with citrus juice. Some claim it might be more than an old wives' tale, while others don't; either way, more research is necessary to confirm or disprove this (via TODAY).