When I had a cold as a child, my mother put a little Vicks VapoRub under my nose to help me breathe more easily. Does this really work?
Answers from Jay L. Hoecker, M.D.
Vicks VapoRub doesn't relieve nasal congestion. But the strong menthol odor of VapoRub tricks your brain, so you feel like you're breathing through an unclogged nose. By contrast, decongestant tablets and nasal sprays sold over-the-counter may narrow blood vessels in the lining of your nose, leading to reduced swelling in your nasal passages.
VapoRub has drawbacks other than its ineffectiveness as a nasal decongestant. It's unsafe for any use in children under 2 years of age. In adults and children 2 years and over, use it only on the neck and chest.
Swallowing a few teaspoons of camphor — one of the main ingredients in VapoRub and other topical medications, such as Campho-Phenique and Bengay — can cause fatal poisoning in toddlers. Topical camphor absorbed through mucous membranes or broken skin also can be toxic. That's why you should never put VapoRub in or around the nostrils — particularly a small child's nostrils. Finally, if VapoRub gets in your eye, it can injure your cornea.
March 21, 2017
See more Expert Answers
- Pappas DE, et al. The common cold in children: Management and prevention. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Nov. 9, 2016.
- VapoRub topical ointment. Vicks.com. http://vicks.com/en-us/shop-products/vaporub/vaporub-topical-ointment. Accessed Nov. 9, 2016.
- Lalwani AK. Nonallergic and allergic rhinitis. In: Current Diagnosis & Treatment in Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery. 3rd ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com. Accessed Nov. 10, 2016.
- Camphor. Toxicology Data Network. https://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/sis/search/a?dbs+hsdb:@term+@DOCNO+37. Accessed Nov. 9, 2016.
- Camphor. Natural Medicines. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com. Accessed Nov. 9, 2016.