Vicks Vapour Rub – Stop rubbing?

January 26, 2009


I am afraid I am revealing my age when I recall childhood colds being resolved with a horny handed rub from my mother of Vicks VapoRub on my chest and a firm covering of a red flannel liberty bodice. It did my chest a world of good, though not so brilliant on the rubber buttons, and I still use a few drops under my nose if it is stuffy and blocked in the winter.

Alas, this popular over-the-counter treatment has come under the scrutiny of the American College of Chest Physicians and they sound a warning that it may stimulate mucus and airway inflammation. This applies particularly to infants and toddlers and they suggest it could dangerously interfere with their ability to breathe.

The study was carried out at Wake Forest University School of Medicine’s Pediatrics Department as a result of treating an 18-month-old girl who went into severe respiratory distress after the salve was rubbed under her nose. Now obviously you can’t test this on children, so the researchers used ferrets to study mucus production as well as the build up of fluid in the lungs.

Who would have guessed it, but apparently ferrets have an airway anatomy and cellular composition similar to people – so no more stuffing them down your trousers as they are somewhat distantly related to us. Perhaps not kissing cousins, but you get the idea. The ferrets were regularly anointed with Vicks Vapour Rub and the results showed their mucus secretion rose significantly and that mucus clearance decreased. When relating this to children, the problem is that they have airways that are much narrower than those of adults, so any increase in mucus or inflammation can narrow them more severely.

This is not just Vicks Vapour Rub, but any similar product as some of the ingredients can cause irritation. These include camphor, menthol, Eucalyptus oil, turpentine and petrolatum, made from petroleum. Such products are not meant to be used on children under age 2, but with the best intentions some parents use it to relieve their child’s cold and flu symptoms. Unfortunately, there is a common misconception that anything you can buy over the counter is safe, but you must always read the label carefully for any warnings, and ask the pharmacist if you are in any doubt. Dr. Rubin, the chief researcher goes further and points out that cough and cold medicines and decongestants are dangerous and neither effective nor safe for young children. American College of Chest Physicians also agree, and Dr Rubin makes the case that natural therapies are a much better alternative and suggests a very old remedy indeed for congestion: using a warm water salt solution to wash out the nasal passages and some good old fashioned chicken soup to boost the immune system (home made from organic chicken of course).

If you still have a jar in the medicine cabinet, there is an alternative use for it in killing toenail fungus, as recommended by an old-fashioned doctor.  Just apply on the top, all around the toenail and as much under the nail as you can get. In a few days you will see the nail start becoming darker, which means the fungus is being killed off.


Article by  


What do you think of this health article by ? Join the discussion...