Can Magic Mouthwash Help My Cancer Mouth Sores? Pros, Cons, and a Magic Mouthwash Alternative

If you or a loved one are suffering from mouth sores, or expecting that they may become a problem during your cancer treatment, an oral mucositis mouthwash can offer relief.  But which one is right for you?

Several oral mucositis mouthwashes are sold online and in pharmacies, including several popular varieties that are commonly known as “magic mouthwash” as well as Healios – a magic mouthwash alternative. Below is some key information about these two very different types of rinses for mouth sore.

What is Magic Mouthwash?

Magic mouthwash is a catch-all name for a handful of different versions of oral mucositis mouthwash. These versions of magic mouthwash also go by other names, such as Duke’s Mouthwash, Mary’s Mouthwash, Kaiser’s and Stanford.

Pharmacists compound some of these rinses for mouth sores according to their own recipe. Others are available in pre-measured kits that your pharmacist will prepare for you.

What Are the Three Ingredients in Magic Mouthwash?

What’s included in the recipe varies from one pharmacist to the next. But magic mouthwash usually contains three or more of the following ingredients:

  • Anesthetic, for pain relief

  • Antacid, in the form of a thick liquid which helps the other ingredients coat the insides of your mouth

  • Antihistamine, to reduce discomfort

  • Antibiotic, to kill bacteria

  • Antifungal, to reduce fungal growth

  • Corticosteroid, to treat inflammation

  • Other agents including, in some cases, alcohol

Out of all the above, the three most common ingredients in magic mouthwash are antihistamines, antacids, and anesthetics.

Magic mouthwash is intended to be used every four to six hours. Typically, you hold it in your mouth for 1-2 minutes before you either spit it out or swallow it.  It is also recommended that you wait 30 minutes for the oral mucositis mouthwash to work before you eat or drink.

The Pros and Cons of Magic Mouthwash

Some patients report getting relief from the pain of mouth sores by using magic mouthwash.  It is commonly prescribed by doctors and is readily available for cancer patients to pick up from their local pharmacy. However, the pain relief from magic mouthwash is short-lived. Its effects last about 4 hours after it is taken.

In addition, magic mouthwash can have its own side-effects. The strong flavors and the alcohol in some of these rinses can irritate your mouth and gums. Because the recipe varies, you may have a hard time knowing what you are getting when you use it. Other reported side effects include drowsiness, nausea, constipation and diarrhea as well as problems with taste.

In recent years, healthcare professionals have taken a closer look at magic mouthwash and it hasn’t stood up well to scrutiny.  For example, a recent study that compared two different recipes of magic mouthwash found that while both versions offered some minor pain relief to the patients in the study, neither made a clinically important difference in the amount of relief they felt.

Nurses Weigh In

The voices of nurses ring even louder, since they see up close the pain and the difficulty eating and drinking that cancer patients with mouth sores experience. The American Academy of Nursing has given magic mouthwash a thumbs down; their Choosing Wisely guidance explicitly recommends against using it.

The guidance says magic mouthwash “is no more effective for management of oral mucositis than salt and sodium bicarbonate rinses.” It also points to the significant cost, ranging from $34 to $50 for 8 ounces of magic mouthwash, which is a 2-day supply.

The bottom line is that a ‘magic’ oral mucositis mouthwash may provide you some temporary relief when it comes to the symptoms of mouth sores, particularly the pain and potential for infection. But these rinses do nothing to address the mouth sores themselves.

Healios®: A Magic Mouthwash Alternative 

Healios® is an oral mucositis mouthwash that works in a different way. Its main ingredient is glutamine, one of the body’s 20 natural amino acids that make up the building blocks of protein. Glutamine also plays an essential role in both the growth of new cells and the repair of damaged cells.

Healios promotes healing in the cells lining the mouth and throat, particularly if you expect to get, or are already suffering from, mouth sores as a result of the damage inflicted by chemotherapy or radiation treatment.

Healios is intended to be used at the same time you start treatment. You swish Healios in your mouth for 10 seconds, and then swallow it, twice daily. No prescription is needed, and Healios is available online at a cost of about $4/day.

The benefits of supplementing with the nutrients found in Healios have been clinically demonstrated. Rather than addressing the symptoms of mouth sores, this oral mucositis mouthwash addresses the sores themselves.  Fewer, or less severe, mouth sores mean that cancer patients going through treatment are less likely to need opioids like morphine or other products for pain relief.

If you or a loved one are experiencing mouth sores, or are at risk of developing them during cancer treatment, a healthcare provider can advise you whether an oral mucositis mouthwash is an appropriate part of your cancer treatment plan.

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