Warning about Vicks VapoRub

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A warning has been issued about the popular cough and cold treatment Vicks VapoRub. Experts say it should not be used on children under 2 years of age.

Vicks VapoRub, a salve which can be bought over the counter, is used to relieve coughs and congestion, but can apparently harm infants and toddlers.

According to Dr. Bruce Rubin from Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Vicks VapoRub can have severe effects on breathing in young children because it may stimulate mucus production and airway inflammation.

The product made by Procter and Gamble has been around since 1905 - it is applied to the chest or throat for congestion relief or to relieve sore muscles.

It contains camphor which is toxic if swallowed or absorbed into the body and the manufacturers do in fact warn that VapoRub should not be applied in or near the nostrils and not used on children under 2 years of age.

Dr. Rubin was first alerted to the dangers of the misuse of the Vaporub when an 18-month-old child developed severe respiratory distress after it was put directly under her nose.

Dr. Rubin says the ingredients in Vicks can be irritants, causing the body to produce more mucus to protect the airway, and infants and young children have airways that are much narrower than those of adults, so any increase in mucus or inflammation can narrow them more severely.

Research was then carried out on the effects of the salve on the respiratory system of animals - ferrets, which have an airway system similar to humans, were used and tests conducted which measured the effects of the Vaporub on mucus secretion and build up in the airways, and fluid build-up in the lungs.

It was found that the Vaporub increased the mucus secretion and decreased the clearance of the mucus and Dr. Rubin says Vicks should not be put in or under, the nose of adults or children and never used in children under age 2.

He says even when the directions on the label are followed Vicks may make people with congestion feel more comfortable, but it does nothing to increase airflow or actually relieve the congestion and he suggests similar products, including generic brands, could cause the same adverse reaction in infants and toddlers.

The Wake Forest team says cough and cold medicines and decongestants are dangerous and neither effective nor safe for young children and medications which dry up nasal passages also present problems.

Dr. Rubin says the best treatments for congestion are saline (saltwater) and gentle rubber bulb suction, warm drinks or chicken soup, and, often, just letting time heal the child.

However, Dr. Rubin says a child struggling to breathe is a medical emergency and needs would to be seen by a doctor as quickly as possible.

Experts recommend parents check with a doctor before giving infants and young children any over-the-counter medicine as they can be harmful.

Proctor & Gamble says Vicks VapoRub has a long-standing history of being safe and effective when used according to package directions and its safety and efficacy has been demonstrated in multiple human clinical trials including more than a thousand children aged 1 month to 12 years.

The company says the findings of the animal studies, prompted by a single case report, are of questionable human clinical relevance.

The research is published the current issue of CHEST.


Vicks VapoRub Study: Response Rubin, Bruce K. CHEST, Volume 136, Issue 2, 650 - 651, https://journal.chestnet.org/article/S0012-3692(09)60519-5/fulltext

Journal reference:

Vicks VapoRub Induces Mucin Secretion, Decreases Ciliary Beat Frequency, and Increases Tracheal Mucus Transport in the Ferret Trachea Abanses, Juan Carlos et al. CHEST, Volume 135, Issue 1, 143 - 148, https://journal.chestnet.org/article/S0012-3692(09)60079-9/fulltext


  1. Victoria Victoria Canada says:

    Hi at a young age I have been using Vicks because it was the only way to get me to fall asleep.

    I am now 17 and am still using the Vicks product as a way to get my neccesary sleep. After reading this article I am rethinking continuing my daily use of Vicks' are there any risks that I may have because of it?

    Or medical problems cause by it. I do get excessively bad migraines and my nose gets stuffy alot which is why I used the product.

  2. Arun Kumar Arun Kumar India says:

    Some peoples told that Vicks Vaporub is the banged product in USA, because it cause asthma problem. Is it right?

  3. Utsukta Kc Utsukta Kc Nepal says:

    What is the effect of using Vicks in a face of the children of 15 years??/can u plz suggest me..

  4. Johan Van Vuuren Johan Van Vuuren South Africa says:

    As a layman I think this article is nonsense. Anyone who uses Vicks can feel the effect it has of clearing the airways and nose. Rubbing on the chest helps clear congestion. Yes, maybe it is strong for babies, but for adults its excellent.

  5. Marishka Noyb Marishka Noyb United States says:

    If you use vicks Vapor Rub stay indoors or wash it all off before going outdoors on cold days. You can get pneumonia from going out on cold days.A good thing to do with small children is put them to sleep in a car seat...it elevates them and makes it easier to breath
    and yes.....Buckle them in !

    • Daniel Robert Law Daniel Robert Law United States says:

      You don't catch pneumonia from the cold. Raising a baby the few inches with a car seat doesn't 'elevate' them.
      If you use Vick's as a rub then go out in the cold it will feel colder, but it's no danger.

      I was raised using Vick's in the home (I'm 67 now). Congestion dissipates if you put Vick's in a steamer, or even in hot water in a bowl. Use a towel to cover your head and keep the vapors in (CLOSE YOUR EYES UNDER THERE!!). Sometimes it relaxes me due to the comforting memories of childhood I think.

  6. Wessel Lemmer Wessel Lemmer United States says:

    Vicks has always made me feel worse; as a child, my parents wouldn't believe it and gave it to me even when i refused. Everyone believes its a great old time tested medicine but its definitely not for me. It opens you briefly so you can fall asleep then smothers you.

  7. Fazal Gafoor Fazal Gafoor Guyana says:

    Vicks cures fungus because it has camphor, and camphor has been used for centuries to cure fungus. Do not waste your money and buy expensive products such as Lamisil .... most nail fungus treatments have chemicals that are far more toxic than camphor.....

  8. Kathy Sparks Kathy Sparks United States says:

    Oh Please!....Im a 60s baby and thats just about all we had to use when we got sick. I can remember my mom lathering me up in the stuff....throwing me into a flannel gown before I went to bed. Till this very day I still use Vick's vapor rub. I'm 56 yrs old and still kicking.

  9. Rose Ann Sabaka Rose Ann Sabaka United States says:

    When I was a kid, my dad used to put this in our noses for congestion...we are now in our 60's.

  10. Marta Carro Page Marta Carro Page Argentina says:

    i wonder, who takes advantage of this advertising against an old and useful product?

  11. Sharon Davis Sharon Davis United States says:

    my parents used it on us as kids and it caused us no harm! I'm 69 and still have it on hand in my medicine cabinet! My mom would put it on our chests and back when we were sick and my dad would take a blob of it on his finger and swallow it and he never had a cold or the flu until he stopped doing that! this so called doctor don't know what the heck hes talking about! When we got a stuffy nose, my mom would rub just a small amount under our noses and cleared that up!

  12. Theda Gallegos Theda Gallegos United States says:

    What would the effects be if you were given Vicks internally by mouth from newborn to 7 years old.   Every time you were ill it was put in your mouth to swallow?

  13. J Lorensen J Lorensen United States says:

    I’m 70 years old. As a little boy my great grandmother would rub it on my feet and under my nose at night. Guess it missed its chance to kill me so far.

  14. Nina Stout Nina Stout United States says:

    I thought that I had noticed that the last jar of Vicks I bought didn't seem as strong. I thought maybe I got ahold of an old jar or something. Here they have lessened the amount of camphor they out in it from 11% to 4.8%. Its awful and not as effective at all! I will not be purchasing anymore Vicks.

  15. Yvonne Allen-Eekhout Yvonne Allen-Eekhout South Africa says:

    I am 72 and have suffered with bronchitis and sinusitis all my adult life. Used Vicks to steam when I've had a cold for years... UNTIL this week. It caused a terrible reaction in my trachea. Burning, painful, raw. I could feel it happening as i steamed. Hence me doing a little research to find out if Vicks could cause this...i agree whole heartedly with this article warning.
    It may have no side effect for years and then as with me at 72 suddenly it did

  16. Victoria Mahoney Victoria Mahoney United Kingdom says:

    I've just come across this article, I'm 42 next week, a life long brittle asthmatic. I won't go anywhere near vicks vapour rub, I was frequently having bad attacks as a child (8-15) at around 12 I was poorly, mum put vicks on my chest and within 30 mins I was on my way to hospital  (I was then a red card holder in medway) mum called I'm on my way, prepare to receive me, but this time, on route, I foamed at the mouth became cyonized and remember so clearly thinking I won't make it there. I swore blind it was the vapour rub that caused something nearly took my life! There was something so dangerously different so quickly that day (quicker than usual) I had oxygen at home, BEEN ICU before and after, but that's the only time I remember being terrified. I've always felt no one quite believed me, but as the person who lives it, I knew, it's not just little people this may affect, I'm so glad I read this article

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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