Parents have used Vicks Vaporub for over a hundred years to ease cough and cold congestion. Despite the pungent odor, this old standby remains popular as a nighttime cold treatment. On the other hand, little research has focused on whether it really eases cold symptoms – at least until now. Do vapor rubs work?
Vapor Rubs for Relieving Nighttime Cough and Stuffiness
Researchers at the Pen State College of Medicine put vapor rubs to the test. 138 children with nighttime cough and congestion had either a Vicks Vaporub treatment massaged into their neck and chest, a petroleum jelly rub, or no treatment thirty minutes prior to bedtime. The study was completely blinded so no one, including the researchers, knew who received what treatment, and measures were taken so parents couldn’t identify the treatment by smell.
The results? The vapor rub reduced the frequency and severity of coughs and congestion – compared to the other two groups. Plus, both sick children and their parents who used the vapor rub treatment slept better than the other two groups. The one symptom the vapor rub failed to significantly improve was runny nose, but, all in all, the vapor rub treatment was a success.
Vapor Rubs vs. Cold and Cough Medications
Recent research suggests that over-the-counter cough and cold medications are not only ineffective but can actually be dangerous, especially for young children. A vapor rub made of eucalyptus oil, camphor, and menthol, is an inexpensive and safe alternative to cold and cough medications. The most common side effect is the unpleasant smell and mild burning where the rub is applied.
One word of warning. Don’t use vapor rubs for nighttime cough and congestion in children under the age of two. They have smaller airways that are easily irritated by the ingredients in vapor rubs – and never apply vapor rub underneath a child’s nose. Rub it into the chest and neck instead. In children who have any type of chronic respiratory condition, including asthma, talk to their doctor before using Vicks or any other vapor rub.
Vicks and Other Vapor Rubs for Nighttime Cough and Congestion: The Bottom Line?
Vicks and other vapor rubs are safe and effective for children over the age of two when they’re properly applied to the chest and neck – and they’re more effective and better tolerated than most over-the-counter cough and cold medications. Give this old-fashioned treatment a try the next time your child has a cold.
Eurekalert.org. “Vapor rub relieves cold symptoms for children, helps them sleep better”