This is a fake news alert. A camphor potli (bundle) message has been going viral on social media for several days as reports of an oxygen crisis pour in from different parts of the country. There is no scientific evidence to back this claim.
The core content of the message says, “Camphor, lavang, ajwain, few drops of eucalyptus oil. Make a potli and keep smelling it throughout the day and night. Helps increase oxygen levels and congestion. This potli is also given to tourists in Ladakh when oxygen levels are low. Many ambulances are now keeping these too. It’s a home remedy. Kindly share and help (sic).”
Though camphor is used in several medicines, traditional as well as pharmaceutical, for nasal congestion and other illnesses, there is no scientific study to suggest that the camphor potli helps improve oxygen levels in the body.
Yet the message is going viral. Even several verified social media handles are posting it as a remedy for reduced oxygen levels among patients suffering from Covid-19.
In medicines in which camphor is used, its concentration is kept at below five per cent. For example, the popular decongestant Vicks VapoRub. The official website calls it a cough suppressant that uses 4.8 per cent of synthetic camphor. The American drug regulator says camphor concentration should not exceed 11 per cent in any product.
A study published in 2009 said, “Inhalation of camphor, eucalyptus or menthol had no effect on nasal resistance to airflow but the majority of subjects reported a cold sensation in the nose with the sensation of improved airflow.”
Thus, the main ingredients suggested in the camphor potli do not even clear the air passage in the nostrils. The cold sensation makes people feel a little better.
On the other hand, excess inhaling of camphor is harmful and leads to poisoning. The daily maximum dose of camphor inhalation should not exceed 1.5 mg. Several studies have warned against camphor poisoning.
An annual report on clinical toxicology by the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ National Poison Data System in 2019 also warned against the inhalation or eating of non-medicinal doses of camphor. Such inhalation or ingestion of camphor can lead to severe poisoning within a few minutes. The adverse effect on children can be more serious.
Another study said, “Even small doses of camphor can cause severe toxicity and are potentially fatal…The onset of action is very rapid, and the main effect occurs on the central nervous system, and seizures are most common.”
Similarly, lavang (clove) mentioned in the camphor potli is not known for improving oxygenation in the body. It has its medicinal value and a study talked about its potential for being used in Covid-19 treatment citing previous instances of cloves having anti-viral properties. But even this study does not claim that cloves can improve oxygen levels in the body.
Ajwain (carom seeds) or eucalyptus oil are again used in traditional medicines and some chemical drugs, but there is no study to suggest that they improve oxygen levels among patients suffering from respiratory illnesses in general and Covid-19 in particular.
Trusting the camphor potli viral message for treating Covid-induced drop in oxygen levels can be dangerous.