Actor Samantha’s hydrogen-peroxide recommendation for viral infection makes doctors see red

Actress Samantha Ruth Prabhu on her Instagram story advocated the use of hydrogen peroxide, accompanied by a picture of herself inhaling it.

BySumit Jha

Published Jul 05, 2024 | 2:08 PM Updated Jul 05, 2024 | 2:08 PM


South Indian actor Samantha Ruth Prabu’s suggestion to nebulize with a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and distilled water to overcome common viral infection has created much furious effervescence on social media, with qualified medical practitioners questioning her expertise.

Amid the overpowering criticism of her medical science illiteracy, Samantha said she did the Instagram post in good faith after receiving such a recommendation from a qualified doctor.

“Before taking medication for a common viral infection, consider trying an alternative approach,” she posted.

“One option is to nebulize with a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and distilled water. It works like magic. Avoid unnecessary use of medicine. #alternativemedicine,” Samantha posted with an accompanying picture of herself inhaling hydrogen peroxide.

Also Read: Samantha acknowledges “past mistakes” in response to a fan’s criticism

Doctors see red

However, doctors found the recommendation wrong and advised patients not to practice it.

“Left: Influential Indian actress Ms. Samantha Ruth who is unfortunately a health and science illiterate advising millions of her followers to inhale hydrogen peroxide to prevent and treat respiratory viral infections. Right: Scientific society, The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, warning people to not nebulize and breathe in hydrogen peroxide because it is dangerous for health,” said Hepatologist Dr Cyriac Abby Philips on X.

Dr Philips added that in a rational and scientifically progressive society, this woman will be charged with endangering public health and fined or put behind bars. She needs help or a better advisor in her team.

“Will India’s Health Ministry or any health regulatory body do something about these social media health influenzas damaging public health or will they remain spineless and let people die?” he asked.

Also Read: Brain-eating amoeba claims another life in Kerala

What is hydrogen peroxide?

Hydrogen peroxide (H₂O₂) is a colourless liquid with a slightly more viscous consistency compared to water. It is a strong oxidizing agent and is used in various applications due to its disinfectant, bleaching, and antiseptic properties.

  • Chemical formula: H₂O₂
  • Uses: Oxidizer, bleaching agent, antiseptic
  • Concentration: Typically 3-6% in consumer products, up to 30% for industrial use
  • Decomposition: Breaks down into water and oxygen when exposed to light or heat
  • Natural Occurrence: Found naturally in the human body and other biological systems
  • Applications: Waste-water treatment, surface, and tool disinfection, hair bleaching, mouth rinse
  • Hydrogen peroxide is considered an environmentally safe alternative to chlorine-based bleaches as it degrades into oxygen and water. However, it can irritate the eyes, skin, and respiratory system upon exposure, and ingestion may result in severe gastrointestinal effects.

Doctors against the use

All pulmonologists shared the same opinion: Hydrogen peroxide is not good for the lungs.

Consultant Interventional Pulmonologist at Aster Hospital Bengaluru Dr Srikanta JT stated that hydrogen peroxide should never be used via inhalation.

“Inhalation immediately causes dose-independent difficulty in breathing and may lead to severe respiratory distress. Patients will likely present with wheezing, drooling, and/or stridor and may have subglottal narrowing. So it is not only not recommended but strongly discouraged,” he told South First.

Dr. Shivalingaswamy Salimath, Consultant Pulmonologist at Trustwell Hospitals in Bengaluru, called this practice dangerous.

“It’ll burn the airway and can trigger severe inflammatory reactions in both the upper airways and the lungs. It can cause severe chemical pneumonitis,” he told South First.

He added that people should never follow advice from unqualified sources. “Always consult a doctor, a Consultant Pulmonologist, or a Physician for any of your respiratory diseases,” he emphasized.

Renowned pulmonologist and Head of the Department of Sleep Medicine at Manipal Hospitals, Bengaluru, Dr Satyanarayana Mysore, stated that hydrogen peroxide is not an FDA-authorised or approved medication for nebulization in patients with airway diseases.

“The medications commonly used with a nebulizer for Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other airway diseases include bronchodilators like salbutamol, corticosteroids like fluticasone furoate and fluticasone propionate, and antibiotics per the prescription of a pulmonologist, only in selected patients,” he told South First.

Hydrogen peroxide can be toxic and can lead to caustic burns, eye and ear injuries, nose injuries, airway damage, and pulmonary edema, which is the worst of all. No existing guidelines advocate the use of hydrogen peroxide for nebulization.

Not so polite discussion

Later, Samantha took to her Instagram handle and issued a lengthy statement addressing the criticism by Dr Philips. She mentioned that she had “merely suggested” the use of hydrogen peroxide nebulization with “good intention” since it was recommended to her by a “highly qualified doctor.”

Samantha then questioned Dr Philips and asked him to be polite. “It would have been kind and compassionate of him had he not been so proactive with his words, especially the part where he suggests I should be thrown in prison. Never mind. I suppose it goes with the territory of being a celebrity. I posted as someone who needs medical treatment and not as a celebrity,” she wrote.

“It would have been nice had he politely invited my doctor, whom I have tagged in my post, rather than go after me. I would have loved to have learned from the debate and discussion between two highly qualified professionals,” the actress added. She then assured the doctor that she would be more careful about sharing treatments online.


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A post shared by Samantha (@samantharuthprabhuoffl)

Commenting on Samantha’s suggestion, Dr Philips termed her a serial offender in the context of healthcare misinformation and that she has been in the line of fire previously as well.

“The reason why doctors like me have to spend (waste) time from our busy schedules to fight misinformation online is that it is peddled by large influential “celebrity” accounts that have no regard for public health. Engagement and monetization are their concern. Public health and disease prevention is mine. I (we) will be provocative, strongly criticise, be blatant, and brutal with facts because we have no time to waste, catering to emotions,” Dr Philips said on X.

He said that he expected better from someone who claims that she wants to “improve.” This is far from an improvement.

“A rational and logical response would be to delete the public health endangering posts and apologise to her millions of followers and vouch to never quote or cite fraudulent practices or practitioners,” he added.

He also said that he has absolutely ZERO hope for improving scientific temperament or rationalism in this country. Everyone role plays the victim of “scientific criticism” but will keep embracing and holding on to dogmatic views in healthcare, traditional untested observations, or debunked dangerous therapies without shame or self-reflection.

If celebrity influencers want to impact people positively, then start unlearning and re-learning, develop critical thinking skills, disregard logical fallacies, and stand up for medical science instead of “playing victim” to the same science that is helping you, and all of us, survive into the future.

“I won’t be commenting or debunking any of Samantha’s future endorsements of pseudoscientific alternative public health endangering posts because,” he said.

(Edited by Majnu Babu)

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