Are Antiviral Tissues Worth Using?

Tissues
Joe Fox/Getty Images

Viruses are all around us. Over 200 of them can cause the simple common cold. Countless more cause other infections in humans. If you haven't heard, antibiotics don't kill viruses. So taking these medications when you have a viral illness won't do anything other than lead to antibiotic resistance.

So if you can't take antibiotics for a cold or virus, what can you do? There are an endless number of cold and flu remedies available, with varying degrees of usefulness.

You can try over the counter medicines to relieve your symptoms, you can wait it out, you may even want to use alternative or homeopathic remedies.

One product that is widely available is marketed as an "antiviral tissue." The claim is that they can cut down on the spread of cold viruses because they kill the virus when you use them. Do these tissues do anything more than regular tissues, though? Can they actually stop the spread of viruses better than other products?

How They Are Different

The Kleenex brand AntiViral tissues have added two ingredients in the middle layer of the tissue paper that are supposed to cut down on the spread of viruses.

The ingredients in these tissues are:

  • Citric Acid Monohydrate
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Chances are good that you have never heard of these things. But does that mean they are bad for you? Not necessarily.

Although "chemicals" and "ingredients you can't pronounce" get a bad rap, they aren't always bad.

In fact, every single thing on earth is technically made up of "chemicals" and things that are difficult to pronounce. Citric acid is found in natural things like citrus fruit. Most people wouldn't hesitate to eat an orange (nor should they unless they are allergic) and no one is suggesting that you eat these tissues.

Of course, just because the ingredients in these tissues aren't necessarily a hazard, that doesn't mean they provide any true benefit either. The key to stopping the spread of germs is to minimize their entry into the environment. Taking steps like washing your hands, covering your cough, and avoiding people that could become seriously ill from your cold will be far more effective than using tissues that are supposed to kill the germs once they leave your body.

Are They Worth It?

Antiviral tissues are slightly more expensive than regular tissues (approximately $2.60 vs. $1.00 to $2.00/box). While the difference may not sound substantial, it can add up over time. And there doesn't seem to be any proof that they help with anything.

A tissue is not going to kill the virus that is in your body. Even if it does kill the virus if you sneeze or cough into the antiviral tissue, that won't help you at all. In theory, it could reduce the chance that the virus is spread to someone else, but simply sneezing or coughing into any tissue—or even your elbow—will do that. A cold virus can only live outside of the body or on a hard surface for about 3 hours. When you cough or sneeze, invisible droplets of saliva and mucus containing the virus can travel as far as 6 feet.

Putting a tissue or covering your mouth can reduce the amount that is spread through the air but it won't eliminate it completely. Using a tissue to cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough will reduce the spread of germs whether it is an antiviral tissue or not.

What You Can Do

Antiviral tissues are unlikely to make much of a difference in reducing the spread of germs when you are sick with a cold, the flu, or another respiratory virus. But that doesn't mean there's nothing you can do. Taking common sense steps to keep others healthy is important:

  • Wash your hands - Health care professionals say this a lot. Proper hand washing is the best way to prevent the spread of infections. Period. Make sure you are doing it correctly and doing it often. You could save a life.
  • Cover your cough - As mentioned above, covering your mouth with a tissue or coughing into your elbow can significantly reduce the spread of germs. It won't eliminate them completely but it will cut down on the amount of germs sent flying into the environment around you when you are sick.
  • Avoid people at high risk - Infants, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems are at high risk for serious complications or death from viruses that would not really be a problem for a healthy adult. If you aren't well, stay away from people that could be severely affected by your illness.
  • Use hand sanitizer - If soap and water is not available, alcohol based sanitizer is a proven alternative. As long as your hands aren't visibly soiled and have not come into contact with body fluids, using hand sanitizer will help cut down on the spread of germs.
  • Know when to see a doctor - Most colds and respiratory illnesses go away on their own. Very few people really need to go to the doctor when they get sick with the common cold. However, there are certain things to be aware of and symptoms that may indicate you need to seek medical attention. When you get worse instead of better after about a week or your symptoms last longer than 2 weeks, those are both indicators that your cold may have turned into something more serious.

A Word From Verywell

There is nothing inherently wrong with antiviral tissues. They are not bad for you and they should not cause any significant problems if you decide to use them—as long as you are not allergic to any of the ingredients. But they probably aren't really of any benefit either. The bottom line is, if you like them and don't mind spending the extra money to purchase them, that's fine. Just don't expect them to keep anyone healthier than any other tissues do.

Sources:

CDC. Prevent the Common Cold. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/features/rhinoviruses/index.html. Published February 6, 2017. 

Common Cold. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/commoncold.html. 

Coping With Colds. http://m.kidshealth.org/en/teens/colds.html.

Facts About The Common Cold. American Lung Association. http://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/influenza/facts-about-the-common-cold.html. 

How Flu Spreads| Seasonal Influenza (Flu) | CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/spread.htm. 

Continue Reading