Cold and flu season is upon us once again. One of the most popular home remedies to help your child’s cold and cough involves rubbing Vicks VapoRub on the chest, and on the bottom of your child's feet, and cover with a warm towel. Some parents swear by this practice, saying that their child’s cough is gone by morning. Is the magical Vicks VapoRub the reason?
A study published in the journal Pediatrics found that Vicks VapoRub may be an effective remedy for kids’ cold symptoms. It reports that the rub’s combination of camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus oils can relieve symptoms and improve sleep in children with upper respiratory infections. The study was funded by a grant from Proctor and Gamble.
However, Vicks is not safe for children under the age of 2, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The key is making sure the menthol vapors can be inhaled, says Preeti Parikh, M.D., assistant clinical professor in the Pediatrics Department at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and an American Academy of Pediatrics fellow and spokesperson.
While there's no harm in slathering VapoRub on the soles of the feet and wrapping them in a warm towel, the vapors have to travel farther in order to be inhaled. Instead, experts recommend massaging it onto your child's chest, where he can smell the menthol from a safe distance.
A study published in the journal Chest suggests Vicks doesn’t work, and might actually be dangerous for infants and children. It says Vicks only tricks the brain into thinking airways are open, but it doesn’t actually get rid of any congestion. The camphor in VapoRub can cause seizures or other serious side effects if ingested, so always keep it away from your child's face, including directly under the nostrils.
"The scent of menthol in Vicks VapoRub triggers cold receptors in your nose and upper airway, where you sense temperature and smell," explains Satya D. Narisety, M.D., a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Pediatric Allergy, Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Rutgers University.
"It doesn't actually open up airways or break up mucous, but the menthol does trick your brain into thinking your airways are opening up and you're not so congested."
So, there you have it.