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Why You Should Read Labels

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

With the cold season in full swing there is yet another story about an over-the-counter product being used in a child under the age of two. In this case, the product was not ingested, but applied topically. That product is Vicks VapoRub, which was the “gold standard” in my home for treating a chest cold (at least that is what it was called by my mother). I can recall that blue glass jar being on the counter in our bedrooms and having it rubbed on my chest and then having a warm washcloth placed over it. To this day I love the smell of Vicks.

But this recent study in Chest discusses the case of an 18-month-old who developed significant respiratory distress after having Vicks applied beneath her nose to relieve her cold symptoms. It seems that Vicks (and one would surmise other similar products) acts as an airway irritant, which in turn may actually cause more mucous production and subsequent respiratory distress, especially in children who have smaller airways than adults. I was impressed that the doctors at Wake Forest put 2 + 2 together and hypothesized that the Vicks was the culprit. Then these doctors went to the animal model, in this case a ferret, to see if they could cause respiratory distress in these animals (who is seems have airways similar to a child’s) by applying Vicks to their noses. Indeed, the ferrets developed respiratory distress.

In all fairness to Vicks, it does state on the bottle, “Do not put beneath the nose” and “Do not use in children under two”. Again, parents need to continue to be conscientious and read labels.

This article also does not state if the family used an entire bottle of Vicks, or was it repetitive use etc. Regardless, the take home message is: Read labels, do not use OTC products in children under the age of six, and the best cure for colds is a cool mist humidifier in the room, lots of fluids and salt water nose drops to clear the little nostrils.

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

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