The Top-8 Medical Uses for Vodka | The Survival Doctor

Previously the top-7 medical uses!

by James Hubbard, MD, MPH

Thursday, the U.S. government banned liquids, including gels, in carry-ons to Russia. That means hand sanitizers. That means hand sanitizers that reporters and visitors on their way to Sochi for the Olympics probably packed because of tales of contaminated water.

What to do? Even if you didn’t put sanitizer in your checked bag and Russia’s all sold out when you get there, remember, this country just so happens to be famous for … its vodka. Vodka is about 40 percent alcohol. Alcohol kills germs. So in a pinch, vodka = medical supply.

Unfortunately vodka kills brain cells and the liver too, so let’s not take it too far. But in The Survival Doctor world, I’m always looking for alternatives to regular medical supplies, and this is just too good. In fact, vodka—and other strong alcohols—have a lot of medical uses.

What Kind of Vodka?

The seven tips in this post don’t involve drinking the stuff, so I wouldn’t buy the most expensive brand. I wouldn’t get the flavored type either since you’d just be introducing one more contaminant to the main ingredient.

Caveat: There have been no studies that I know of on vodka as a medical supply. While rubbing alcohol is a known disinfectant, it has a higher alcohol content than vodka, so I can’t be absolutely certain this liquor—or any liquor—will work in the same way. These ideas are for if you don’t have a better, more proven option. Besides, they’re more fun.

  1. Washing your hands. I’d rinse with bottled water afterwards if I wasn’t running low, to make sure the vodka didn’t irritate my hands. Since vodka may dry your skin out, use a little moisturizer after washing if you have it.
  2. Preventing a sore-throat infection. Gargle for 30 seconds or so once a day during a short trip. Maybe dilute half-and-half with bottled water. (Some mouthwashes are 20 percent alcohol). Now don’t be tempted to drink. A small study in Japan showed that people who gargled with tap water daily had fewer sore-throat infections than those who didn’t. The researchers speculated this was was because of the chlorine. Chlorine, alcohol, we’re roughing it here, but they both kill germs. I’d do it if I were in Sochi. Anything to keep down the odds of getting sick and having to run to the doctor. Sorry to disappoint you, but stop the 40 percent alcohol gargle after you get home. Some studies have suggested alcohol might cause oral cancer with long-term use.
  3. Washing small cuts or bites. Bacterial infections can develop quickly and spoil your day. That’s why you’re supposed to clean a new cut with soap and drinkable water. To use vodka instead, I’d take an empty water bottle, fill it with about 2 ounces of vodka for every inch of the cut, stick a pinhole near the bottom of the bottle, and squeeze the vodka into the wound. This pressure cleaning method tends to get more germs out that just pouring the liquid on would. I’m sure you know this is going to sting, but that’s better than getting an infection. Afterwards, you could rinse the vodka off with a little clean water (or not), apply antibacterial ointment or honey (not on kids under 2) if you have any, and bandage.
  4. Disinfecting a needle or safety pin. Before you start picking at something stuck in your skin or draining a blister (if it needs draining) you can soak the instrument in vodka for about 10 minutes. Better yet, hold the instrument tip under a match or lighter for a few seconds and wipe any char away with the vodka.
  5. Drying out your ears. If you get water in your ear, you can put a couple of drops of vodka in it to dry out the moisture. Adding a couple of drops of vinegar helps make an acidic environment that bacteria don’t like. This might even help prevent or treat swimmer’s ear, but beware the alcohol might burn if the ear canal is raw.
  6. Cleaning surfaces. Soak a clean cloth with vodka and clean your sink, cabinet, countertops, or doorknob.
  7. Drying out cold sores. Dabbing on rubbing alcohol is an often-cited home remedy. If you don’t have any, you could try vodka.
  8. Soothing a toothache. Try swishing a little around an aching tooth as a painkiller and disinfectant. Of course, this is a short-term fix. (And remember the oral cancer.)

OK, if you must, drink a little. Just remember it can aggravate jet lag, altitude sickness, and stomach problems, keep you awake, interact with medications, and make you do thing you regret. And if you have tendency not to stop at one, just plain forget this whole blame post.

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