Vicks VapoRub Misuse May Hurt Kids
18-Month-Old Girl Hospitalized After Vicks VapoRub Put Under Her Nose
WebMD News Archive
Jan. 13, 2009 -- Misuse of Vicks VapoRub may have landed an 18-month-old
girl in the hospital, Wake Forest University researchers suggest.
The previously healthy girl had an upper respiratory infection, for which
her grandparents treated her with a dab of Vicks VapoRub under the nose. In
about half an hour, the child began to struggle for breath, and she was taken
to the emergency room.
Bruce K. Rubin, MD, professor of pediatrics at Wake Forest's Brenner
Children's Hospital, suggests the grandparents' misuse of Vicks VapoRub may
very well have caused the girl's respiratory distress.
"It was summertime, and this child had a virus, but she was
disproportionately sick and was not getting better despite treatment [with
rescue inhaler and steroids]," Rubin tells WebMD. "Juan Carlos Abanses,
MD, was the resident in the emergency room and he went back to the grandparents
and asked if there was anything that could have caused this. They said she was
doing well until they put a little Vicks under her nose, and pretty soon after
she had trouble breathing."
Abanses called Rubin, a lung specialist. Rubin had never heard of Vicks
VapoRub causing such a problem, but he knew the product was labeled for use
only in children older than 2 years -- and that the product should never be
applied to the nostrils.
Rubin told Abanses to stop treatment, as the effects of a local irritant
such as Vicks VapoRub should wear off. Sure enough, supplemental oxygen was all
the girl needed to get better. She was released from the hospital the next
"I think this girl was exquisitely sensitive to Vicks," Rubin says.
"In some people Vicks VapoRub causes a rash. This was a girl who was
sensitive to Vicks, and had a virus, and inhaled the Vicks and it tipped her
That was three years ago. Since then, Rubin says, he and his colleagues have
seen three other young children with upper respiratory infections and unusually
severe breathing trouble -- and whose parents had inappropriately treated them
with Vicks VapoRub. All recovered.
Vicks VapoRub Studies
To find out whether Vicks VapoRub might possibly harm airways, Rubin and
colleagues performed a series of experiments on ferrets, whose airway anatomy
and biology resemble that of humans. The experiments suggested that Vicks
VapoRub could possibly act as an irritant causing mucus to block airways.
How convincing are the studies? WebMD asked Daniel Craven, MD, a pediatric
lung specialist at University Hospitals Case Medical Centers Rainbow Babies and
Children's Hospital, Cleveland.
"Dr. Rubin is an established expert in this field, and what they found
lends support to looking at this further," Craven tells WebMD. "By
itself, though, this finding isn't very concerning. If there are harmful
effects from Vicks VapoRub, they probably are mild and only seen in certain
situations with intense exposure of the airways under conditions where the
airways are already compromised."