Why you should never use Vicks on babies and toddlers

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Using Vicks VapoRub improperly can send aggravate your child’s health, says experts.

Mums everywhere turn to Vicks VapoRub when their little ones fall ill, but most don’t know that misusing the popular remedy can actually make your child’s symptoms worse—even to the point of sending them to the hospital.

When an 18-month-old girl was sent to the emergency room after having trouble breathing, Dr. Bruce Rubin and his team found out that her grandparents had rubbed Vicks VapoRub under her nose.

“Sure enough, we demonstrated that the Vicks produced increased mucous in the patient’s airway, which was already inflamed and narrowed because of her respiratory infection,” Rubin explained to ABC News.

The researchers tested the product on ferrets to see if the salve was, indeed, causing the patient’s symptoms. They found that Vicks does increase mucous production, causing inflammation.

vicks safe for babies

Photo: Tatsuo Yamashita/Flickr

The importance of reading (and following) labels

Does this mean that you should throw out your supply of Vicks? Not really. At the very least, it means that we should probably pay more attention to warning labels and follow the instructions.

Each tub of Vicks VapoRub already comes with a warning that it shouldn’t be used on children younger than 2, and that it shouldn’t be rubbed under the patient’s nose. Unfortunately, some parents don’t heed those warnings, and assume that the remedy is perfectly harmless, even for babies.

“I don’t think that parents ignore this warning, but I think they feel relief when they use [Vicks VapoRub] themselves, and it’s an over-the-counter drug … and, therefore, not thought of as anything that can cause problems,” Rubin explained. “But sick children may respond differently than you’d anticipate.”

Vicks not an actual remedy

Even though serious side-effects that come with using Vicks are rare, parents shouldn’t risk using them on young children. In the first place, it doesn’t actually help with the symptoms. Its active ingredients of menthol, camphor, and eucalyptus oil only trick the brain into thinking that the airways are open, even though they’re still congested.

The salve is good for short-term relief, but offers no real cure. In other words, though it might make you feel better, it won’t actually make you better.

“I would recommend never putting the Vicks in, or under, the nose of anybody—adult or child,” Rubin told NBC. “I also would follow the directions and never use it at all in children under age 2.”

On the next page: safe ways to relieve your baby’s cough and colds.

Ages & Stages Baby Baby Health Health / Wellness Illnesses & Conditions