Vicks VapoRub Linked to Breathing Problems for Children Under 2

The use of Vicks VapoRub in infants and toddlers under 2 years old has been associated with potentially severe respiratory distress, by increasing the production of mucus and reducing the ability to clear mucus in their small airways.

Vicks Vaporub is an over-the-counter medication manufactured by Procter and Gamble, which has been available for over 100 years. It is a topical ointment that is supposed to be rubbed on the chest, throat or sore muscles, to relieve congestion, cough or minor aches and pains.

The Vicks VapoRub warning label indicates that it should not be used by children under 2 years of age, and that it should not be applied in or near the nostrils because it contains camphor which may be toxic if swallowed or absorbed.

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A number of parents misuse Vicks VapoRub for young children, and in many cases the product is applied directly in or near the nose, which could cause serious breathing problems according to new research.

A study published in the current issue of Chest, the medical journal of the American College of Chest Physicians, indicates that the use of Vicks VapoRub in children under 2 years old may stimulate excess mucus production, reduce clearing of mucus and cause airway inflammation, potentially leading to respiratory distress because of the small size of young children’s airways.

Researchers from the Wake Forest University School of Medicine point out that Vicks VapoRub does not actually remove congestion, but only makes the brain think the airways are open by use of menthol, camphor and eucalyptus oil.

The study was started after an 18-month old girl was rushed to the emergency room with severe breathing problems which did not respond to a rescue inhaler or steroids. It was summertime and the child had a virus induced common cold. Her grandparents had placed a dab of Vicks VapoRub under her nose for breathing relief.

The researchers used windpipes separated from dead ferrets to study the effects of Vicks VapoRub on respiratory distress, because ferrets have airways similar to humans. Vicks increased mucus production by 59 percent and reduced the ability to clear mucus by 36 percent.

 
In healthy ferrets, Vicks VapoRub increased mucus secretion by 14 percent and by 8 percent in ferrets with induced airway inflammation. These results were not statistically significant.
 
The results of a Procter & Gamble funded study on the efficacy of Vicks as a treatment for the common cold and bronchitis are expected in two years.

Researchers stress that it is important for consumers to only use Vicks VapoRub as directed on the label for those 2 years and over, and never in or around the nostrils for adults or children.

In October 2008, the manufacturers of over-the-counter children’s cough and cold drugs indicated that none of the medications should be used in children under four. Consumer advocacy groups have called for a ban on children under 6, which is the restriction placed on children’s cough and cold medicines in Canada.

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2 Comments

  • CathyFebruary 15, 2021 at 1:56 am

    Serious breathing problems from Vick’s vapor rub

  • CathyFebruary 14, 2021 at 4:55 am

    I have used Vicks vapor rub for years now I have serious breathing problems

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