Vicks VapoRub Misuse May Hurt Kids
18-Month-Old Girl Hospitalized After Vicks VapoRub Put Under Her Nose
Vicks VapoRub Studies continued...
WebMD also sought the opinion of Ian M. Paul, MD, director of pediatric
clinical research at Penn State University. Paul is an expert in
over-the-counter cough and cold medicines and is
conducting a study of Vicks VapoRub under an unrestricted grant from Procter
"I am on record as being highly critical of cough and cold medicines ...
but the [Rubin] case report is "at best incomplete and at worst
irresponsible," Paul tells WebMD. "Those symptoms they present are much
more likely to be caused by RSV [respiratory syncytial virus]. This child had
the classic symptoms of RSV bronchiolitis."
David Bernens, a spokesman for Vicks VapoRub maker Procter & Gamble,
says the company receives about three adverse-event reports -- mostly involving
skin irritation -- for every
million units of Vicks VapoRub sold.
"We take any kind of safety concern very seriously," Bernens tells
WebMD. "We have multiple clinical studies, with more than a thousand
children age 1 month to 12 years old, that have demonstrated both the safety
and efficacy of the Vicks VapoRub product. So we have come to different
conclusions than Dr. Rubin."
Risks vs. Benefits
Is any risk from Vicks VapoRub worth the product's benefit? Rubin and Craven
point to studies that suggest the active ingredients of the product do not
improve air flow in people with nasal congestion. But there is a benefit, Rubin
"Vicks is not bad. It does what it is meant to do: It gives the brain
the sensation of relief of stuffiness," he says. "Menthol triggers
specific cold receptors in the nose and bronchial tubes. That is why it has
been added to cigarettes called things like Kool. If you can't sleep because you are so
congested, and put it on your chest, it makes you feel better. It doesn't open
things up -- but for most kids, it doesn't plug things up, either."
Paul says the reason he's studying Vick's VapoRub is that there's little
publicly available scientific data on how well it works for kids with colds or
bronchitis. While Procter &
Gamble is funding the study, Paul insists that the grant is unrestricted, and
that he will publish the results within two years even if they show the product
has no efficacy.
Craven notes that Vicks VapoRub has been around for more than a century and
reports of adverse events remain few.
"This product has been used for years and years and years and there have
not been a lot of reports of it causing problems," he says. "That
lowers the chances that it could cause respiratory failure. But the Rubin study
does show some things that merit further investigation to see if we should be
more careful in cautioning people against using it in some