When I first heard about the Vicks VapoRub trick for stopping a child's cough, I thought it must just be an old wives' tale.
Something as simple as rubbing some Vicks on your kid’s feet and then slapping on some socks would never actually work, right?
I was happily proven wrong when I tried the trick out of desperation one night. All my children had horrible coughs at the time.
I pulled out our handy tub of vapor rub, then haphazardly rubbed a glob of it on my kids’ feet. They giggled because I inadvertently tickled their feet in the process. I then pulled out some old socks from their drawer and pulled the socks over their now gooey feet.
I waited and… magic!
It actually worked. I can't tell you if it was a coincidence, a placebo, or just plain magic. But applying Vicks VapoRub and then socks to my kid’s feet whenever they are suffering from coughing and congestion seems to significantly reduce their coughing.
I admit that I really hate to give my children medication, especially cough medications that carry a lot of risk. But when it's 2 a.m. and your kid won't stop coughing, it's time to take action. I like this trick because it seems to work well, and I don't have to worry about any harmful medication.
But then comes the big question: Is Vicks VapoRub safe for babies? Unfortunately, the answer is no. But if your kids are over age 2, Vicks might be a lifesaver.
When it comes to Vicks VapoRub, I have both good news and bad news.
The good news? A 2010 study published in the journal Pediatrics and financially supported by a grant from Proctor and Gamble (the maker of Vicks VapoRub) found that the rub may be an effective remedy for kids’ cold symptoms.
The study reports that VapoRub’s combination of camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus oils may relieve symptoms and improve sleep in children with upper respiratory infections.
Unfortunately, this only applies to kids over age 2. Vicks is not safe for infants. The study also found that almost half the children treated with VapoRub had minor side effects.
The other bad news is that this benefit claim is based on only one study of 138 children. It found that parents who applied Vicks to the neck and chest areas of their children reported that some symptoms significantly improved compared to doing nothing at all or just rubbing petroleum on the kids.
Despite the small study sample, I'm still a believer because I've definitely applied Vicks VapoRub to my own kids and seen it work its magic.
The AAP can only safely recommend Vicks for children starting at age 2.
Perhaps more significantly, a 2009 study published in the journal suggested Vicks doesn’t work and it might be dangerous for infants and children. This is because camphor is toxic if ingested, which is more likely to occur in young children.
The study claimed that Vicks only tricks the brain into thinking airways are open, but it doesn’t actually get rid of any congestion. In young children, it can instead act like an irritant to the airways, potentially causing more mucus production and nasal congestion.
If your kids are under age 2, ask your pediatrician about alternative ways to clear up coughing and congestion.
When it comes to keeping your baby healthy, it's never worth the risk to apply medications that aren't 100 percent safe. If your baby is under the age of 2, you should never apply Vicks to their chest, nose, feet, or elsewhere.
You could try special nonmedicated rub for babies 3 months and older. The blend is dubbed as a "soothing ointment" that contains fragrances of eucalyptus, rosemary, and lavender. These have been associated with relaxation. So at the very least, it might help soothe a fussy baby to sleep.
Another option is to release a soothing power into the air. Vicks offers several different types of vaporizers and humidifiers. Use these to release the scent of menthol to soothe and ease congestion for your baby.