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Study: Vicks Might Make Kids Sicker

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

A new study suggests that Vicks VapoRub can be an irritant, increasing the production of mucus and decreasing how fast it’s cleared, potentially causing dangerous breathing problems in infants and very young children.

The study is published in the February 2009 issue of the journal Chest. The author of the study says VapoRub only fools the brain into thinking airways are open by using active ingredients such as menthol, camphor and eucalyptus oil that trigger cold sensors. In reality, congestion remains.

“In a small child who may be hypersensitive, this can make the airways even smaller,” said Dr. Bruce K. Rubin, vice chairman of the department of pediatrics at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C. “I would recommend never putting the Vicks in or under the nose of anybody – adult or child,” said Rubin. “I also would follow the directions and never use it at all in children under age 2.”

Vicks VapoRub has been around for more than 100 years and gained fame during the 1918 great flu epidemic. The makers of Vicks said the researchers are unfairly targeting the popular product.

“We’re not sure that the data that Dr. Rubin has presented is very conclusive,” said David Bernens, a spokesman for Procter & Gamble, the maker of Vicks VapoRub. ” We would hate to see everyone put into undue alarm based on very little data.” Bernens also notes that the labels on VapoRub warn parents not to use the ointment in children younger than two, and not to put it in the mouth, eyes or nostrils.

The Wake Forest study was triggered by the case of an 18-month-old girl who went to an emergency room in respiratory distress after her grandparents rubbed Vicks VapoRub beneath her nostrils. The child later recovered fully.

Pediatricians acknowledged that Dr. Rubin’s research, which was done on ferrets, does not translate directly to humans. But they also said they agreed with the conclusion to avoid using VapoRub in babies and small children.

“Nobody claims that this medication does any good,” said Dr. Michael S. Schechter, an associate professor of pediatrics at Emory University. “When you’re talking about an agent that does no good, your tolerance is very low.”

More Information: Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center
More Information: Vicks Official Web site

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