Why inhaling salt water changes what we exhale

J Colloid Interface Sci. 2007 Mar 1;307(1):71-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jcis.2006.11.017. Epub 2006 Nov 15.


We find that inhaling salt water diminishes subsequently exhaled biomaterial in man and animals due to reversible stabilization of the airway lining fluid (ALF)/air interface as a novel potential means for control of the spread of airborne infectious disease. The mechanism of this phenomenon relates to charge shielding of mucin or mucin-like macromolecules that consequently undergo gelation; this gelation alters the physical properties of the ALF surface and reduces its breakup. Cations in the nebulized solution and apparent surface viscoelasticity of the ALF (more than any other ALF intrinsic physical property) appear to be responsible for the reduced tendency of the ALF to disintegrate into very small droplets. We confirm these effects in vivo and show their reversibility through nebulization of saline solutions to anesthetized bull calves.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Aerosols
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Exhalation*
  • Humans
  • Inhalation*
  • Lung / physiology*
  • Male
  • Salts / administration & dosage
  • Salts / analysis*
  • Solutions / administration & dosage
  • Solutions / chemistry
  • Water / administration & dosage
  • Water / chemistry*


  • Aerosols
  • Salts
  • Solutions
  • Water