The Dangers of Consulting Dr. TikTok
Have you ever stuffed garlic up your nose, on purpose?
How about sticking a Hopi Indian candle in your ear, to remove wax?
No, not your cup of tea?
Well, if you frequent TikTok, and use the medium to search for medical advice, you will find the above two cures, and many more.
TikTok is full of medical advice, says Dr. Ofer Gluck, vice chairperson of the ear, nose, and throat (ENT) department at Assuta Ashdod hospital. The problem is, much of the Tik Tok advice is provided by non-medical experts who provide recommendations that could be counter-indicated by the medical literature.
Dr. Gluck warns, “We know that digital media is ubiquitous, so anyone can ask Dr. Google or Dr. TikTok for guidance, but the advice is often not backed by medical science, and some of it is downright dangerous.”
Dr. Gluck first became aware of the TikTok Doc phenomenon when a young man showed up at the hospital with a fish bone stuck in his throat. He told the Assuta Ashdod staff that he had tried to guide the bone down to his stomach by eating a piece of bread, a technique he gleaned from a TikTok video.
“The advice he followed is hazardous! A fishbone is like a needle and can pierce the esophagus,” insists Dr. Gluck. “A better idea would have been to visit an ENT specialist for treatment, try to cough out the bone, or drink several cups of water to wash it down.”
After this initial encounter with TikTok medical “experts,” Dr. Gluck went online to find more examples. That’s when he saw someone advising shoving garlic cloves up his nose to relieve congestion related to a cold or flu.
“A poor idea,” he says. “Garlic is a pungent substance, so if it’s left inside the nostril for too long, it can cause irritation to the lining of the nose.”
Perhaps the oddest example of TikTok medical advice is the use of so-called Hopi candles. A reported healing practice of the Hopi Indians of North America, a lit candle is placed on the ear where it acts as a kind of vacuum to remove wax. Practitioners say the practice also massages the eardrum and boosts the immune system. Dr. Gluck is less convinced.
“The practice, despite its TikTok fame, can introduce foreign substances to the middle ear and cause infection and inflammation,” he cautions. “Theoretically it can help clear the ear wax, but it can also push material to the deeper part of the ear, which is dangerous.”
“Social media is like a huge book of answers,” Dr. Gluck says, “but medical issues should be handled with care. It pays to be suspicious of advice offered by non-specialists.”