Can Vicks VapoRub on Your Feet Help With a Cough?

You may have heard that putting Vicks VapoRub (camphor, eucalyptus, and menthol) on your feet or your child's feet will help with a cough. So far, though, there is no evidence that this is effective.

VapoRub has been available for many years. Still, it is important to know that this product is not completely safe for kids.

This article will discuss the practice of using Vicks VapoRub on the feet as a cough remedy. It will also look at some of the dangers of using this product in ways that are not recommended by the manufacturer.

How Vicks VapoRub Works

VapoRub is a kind of aromatherapy. Aromatherapy is the use of scented oils and other compounds as an alternative or complementary therapy.

When you're congested, putting VapoRub on your chest can help you feel like your breathing has improved. It does this by releasing menthol vapors that feel cooling to your nasal passages. This tricks your brain into thinking you are breathing more easily.

VapoRub doesn't really help relieve congestion or a cough, though. Your brain just thinks it does.

How to apply vaporub.

Verywell / Tim Liedtke

Knowing this, it's clear that putting Vicks VapoRub on the soles of your feet won't help you. The product is too far from your nose, so it won't provide any aromatherapy benefits.

Using Vicks VapoRub on Your Feet

No scientific study has looked into whether Vicks VapoRub on the feet eases a cough. Without this kind of research, it's impossible to know if the remedy works.

A popular theory you may have seen online says VapoRub may stimulate the nerves in your feet. According to the theory, this stimulation is passed up the spinal cord to the medulla oblongata in the brain. The medulla oblongata is the part of your brain that regulates coughing.

Some compare this idea to a theory about muscle cramps. Some scientists think hyperactivity of certain nerves may cause at least one type of muscle cramp.

A number of studies have shown that a drink made with strong spices can be helpful for these types of cramps. Spices like cinnamon and capsaicin, the compound that makes peppers hot, may distract the nerves that cause these cramps.

According to the theory, VapoRub might have a similar effect on the nervous system. This effect, if it exists, would be separate from VapoRub's aromatherapy effect. So it might help a cough even though it is applied far away from the nose.

It's important to remember, though, that a plausible idea isn't the same thing as a tested scientific theory. Scientific theories are put through rigorous study before they are confirmed. Many plausible-sounding theories have been proven false by research.

Recap

There have been no scientific studies into VapoRub's effectiveness when used on the feet. Without these studies, it is impossible to say whether or not it works this way.

Careful Use of Vicks VapoRub

Vicks VapoRub is an over-the-counter product that has been in use for a long time. This may make it seem like it has minimal risks. But there are some serious warnings about this product you should pay attention to.

  • It contains a poisonous ingredient: Vicks VapoRub is made of camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol. Camphor is poisonous when swallowed. It can cause seizures, coma, or death. This is true even for small amounts. It may also cause harm when too much is inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
  • It's not for small children: The Vicks VapoRub packaging clearly states it shouldn't be used on children under 2 years of age. This is true for any part of the body. Many people ignore this warning.
  • It shouldn't be put under the nose: In adults and children older than 2, the product should only be used on the chest.

Putting Vicks VapoRub under the nose can lead to respiratory distress or difficulty breathing. This has been proven through studies and real-world incidents.

Summary

There is no evidence that using Vicks VapoRub on your feet will help ease a cough. This product may seem to help because menthol vapors make you feel as if you are breathing more easily.

VapoRub is not safe for children under 2. It contains camphor, which is poisonous if swallowed. This product should only be used on the chest, and only by adults and children over the age of 2.

A Word From Verywell

Vicks VapoRub is a popular product with some valid uses. Still, some people use the product in ways that are unproven and come with serious risks.

If you are concerned about cough and congestion, talk to your doctor about the best ways to ease symptoms. Never skip other treatments in favor of this product alone.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can Vicks make your hair grow?

    Some people claim it does, but there’s no proof. One of the main ingredients in Vicks, menthol, has been shown to stimulate hair growth in animal studies, but the mix of ingredients in Vicks may not have the same benefits.

  • What happens if you swallow Vicks VapoRub?

    Ingesting a small taste will probably not be harmful to children or adults, but the camphor in Vicks is toxic and can cause vomiting, seizures, respiratory distress, coma, or even death, depending on how much is consumed.

  • Can putting Vicks on your feet help you sleep better?

    Vicks rubbed on the chests of children with cold symptoms can improve their quality of sleep. However, there’s no evidence that rubbing it on someone’s feet (whether ill or healthy) will help ensure a good night’s rest.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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