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No More VapoRub For Young Ones?

Vick's VapoRub, long a medicine-chest staple, may actually worsen little kids' cold symptoms, according to a report in the January issue of the journal Chest.

But Procter & Gamble begs to differ, saying its product is safe and effective when used as directed.

Doctors at Wake Forest University treating an 18-month-old child with severe respiratory symptoms found that the child's condition improved markedly when VapoRub was no longer rubbed under her nostrils, as had been done to treat her cold.

Spurred by that child's experience, Wake Forest researchers tested VapoRub on ferrets, whose respiratory systems are similar to those of humans.

The idea behind the menthol-infused rub -- which is marketed as a cough-relieving topical ointment -- is that its strong vapors help open clogged noses and chests and get mucus moving. But the research suggests that in young children, with their tiny noses, this may not be a good thing. The outpouring of mucus -- which VapoRub increased by 63 percent in the study -- makes it harder to breathe, the study found. VapoRub also can cause inflammation that further constricts nasal passages and impedes mucus flow.

The mere mention of VapoRub stirs up memories of lying on my back in bed, sweaty with fever, my nose all stuffed up, and having my mother massage the strong-smelling balm into my bare chest. It didn't exactly make me feel better, but it did make me feel loved. I don't recall whether Ma ever rubbed the stuff right under my nose, but my guess is that she did.

Back then, we kids with colds were also treated with cough medicines containing codeine and those tiny orange-flavored baby aspirin tablets. We know now, of course, that codeine is an addictive drug (so codeine-containing medications are available by Rx only) and that aspirin given to kids with viruses may cause Reye's Syndrome. (Baby aspirin is now commonly used to ward off heart attacks and strokes in people with heart disease).

It's recently become clear that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines do nothing to help kids recover and may in fact do damage; those products are no longer recommended for use in children ages 4 and under, and several major manufacturers have stopped selling such products for young kids.

VapoRub can still be used by adults (and, according to its manufacturer, by kids over age 2), though the researchers say there's no science showing it does anything to cure a cold or even mitigate symptoms.

I haven't used it in years, and perhaps I won't ever again. But somehow, I suddenly kind of miss it.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  January 13, 2009; 1:35 PM ET
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Yes, VapoRub did make one feel loved. But the best medicine from back then was Vick's Formula 44, which was like 50% alcohol. It tasted really good too (maybe it had codeine, I don't remember). But I do remember downing a whole bottle once (yum!). My mom freaked and called the doctor who told her I'd probably just sleep really good, which I did, and woke up with no more fever. I also used to chew those orange flavored baby aspirin like M&Ms. How I made it to adulthood I'll never know.

Posted by: bevjims1 | January 13, 2009 3:31 PM | Report abuse

I respectfully disagree with the asssessment. I was diagnosed with chronic-bronchitis when I was two (1958) and Vicks Vap-O-Rub was part of the course of therapy, on my (chest, back and tap under the nose after it was rubbed on) until I was five and it helped clear my sinuses and allowed me to breathe easier.

Granted some youngsters react badly to aspirin or other OTC pharmaceuticals, I believe that the conclusion drawn by Wake Forest University is inherently in error. Vicks Vap-O-Rub worked for me.

Posted by: Computer_Forensics_Expert_Computer_Expert_Witness | January 13, 2009 3:37 PM | Report abuse

bevjims1, are you serious? Vicks Formula 44 was the worse thing I've ever tasted--it was like a bottle of tar. But we always used it when I was growing up because it worked. None of those candy flavored cough syrups ever worked for me.

I also got the Vap-o-Rub treatment as a kid. I hated the smell of it, but it did make me feel better.

Posted by: smmd2007 | January 13, 2009 10:52 PM | Report abuse

The newest trend(old home remedy)is to put the Vicks on the soles of the feet and wear socks to bed. It really does make one feel better and many say has stopped their child coughing at night.

Posted by: harrija1 | January 19, 2009 11:55 AM | Report abuse

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