For many years, Vicks VapoRub has been used on children to ease their coughs and congestion, but researchers have recently warned that it could be dangerous to children aged 2 and younger.
The researchers, who reported on January 13 in the journal of the American College of Chest Physicians, said that using the ointment to help control coughing and congestion in younger children might cause serious breathing problems. It seems this ointment tends to increase mucus production and inflammation.
Even though the label on Vicks VapoRub says not to use on children who are younger than 2, many parents either don’t read the label or think it is safe, because it was used on them as a child, so they use it anyway.
The ointment was first created in 1891 in Greensboro, N.C. It’s active ingredients are camphor, menthol and eucalyptus oil. Previous studies have not revealed any medicinal benefit from using the ointment. It is believed that the menthol in it clings to cold receptors in the throat, which gives the patient a feeling that they are breathing better.
The awareness of the ointment’s risk was raised when an 18 month old infant girl’s respiratory infection suddenly worsened. If was revealed that her symptoms became noticeable after her grandparents put Vicks VapoRub under her nose.
At that time, the researchers were observing ferrets to study infant respiratory problems. The ointment raised mucus production by a whopping 59 percent in cultured cells. The ointment increased secretion in the airways of healthy animals by 14 percent and by 8 percent in animals with inflamed airways. Since infants’ airways are much smaller than adults, an increase in inflammation or mucus can cause them to become too narrow which could result in breathing difficulties and could be extremely dangerous.