Why You Should Think Twice About Using Mentholated Topical Ointment on Babies

Why You Should Think Twice About Using Mentholated Topical Ointment on Babies

Many kinds of topical ointment come with warnings not to use on children below 2. Unfortunately, some parents don’t heed those warnings.

 Mums everywhere turn to mentholated ointments when their little ones fall ill, but most don’t know that misusing such popular remedies 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 a popular mentholated topical ointment under her nose.

"Sure enough, we demonstrated that [the product] 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 particular product on ferrets to see if the salve was, indeed, causing the patient’s symptoms. They found it does increase mucous production, causing inflammation.

Why You Should Think Twice About Using Mentholated Topical Ointment on Babies

The importance of reading (and following) labels

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

Most tubs of such topical salves already come with warnings 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 [it] 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.”

Menthol-based topical ointments not an actual remedy

Even though serious side-effects that come with using such ointments are rare, parents shouldn’t risk using them on young children.

In the first place, they may not actually help with the symptoms. Their 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.

Such salves are 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 [mentholated salve] 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.”

If such ointments are a no-go, what other things can parents do to help their young children feel better when they’re congested? Here are some suggestions from WebMD and BabyCenter

1. Saline drops

When your child’s having trouble breathing, sleeping, and eating because of her stuffy nose, you can use saline nasal drops to thin the mucus.

2. More fluids

You should give your child more drinks if she’s feeling congested, as the extra fluids will help thin out her mucus. Babies under 4 months should be given more breast milk or formula. 4-month-old babies can have a little water, while those 6 months and older can be given juices.

3. Honey

Why You Should Think Twice About Using Mentholated Topical Ointment on Babies

Giving your child half a teaspoonful of honey before bedtime can soothe their sore throats and ease their coughs. Note: never give honey to a child less than a year old, as it can give them botulism.

4. Use a pillow

Raising your baby’s head on a pillow can help your child breathe better. You can also do this with babies by placing a pillow or a folded towel under your baby’s mattress to create a slight angle and raise her head safely.

5. Try a humidifier

Using a humidifier in your child’s room will make it easier for them to breathe. Opt for cool-mist models, which are safer than those that use steam.

6. Use petroleum jelly

Apply a small amount outside your baby's nostrils to reduce irritation.

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