Using Vicks VapoRub as Treatment for Cough and Muscle Aches

Vicks Vaporub

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Vicks VapoRub is a topical cough medication that is applied to the skin to treat coughs and applied to muscles to relieve aches and pain. Both symptoms are frequently caused by the common cold. There is no documented evidence that it actually alleviates respiratory symptoms, although it may provide the sensation of relief. As a relief for sore muscles, it definitely does provide symptomatic relief.

Who Can Use Vicks VapoRub?

Most people over the age of 2 years can safely use Vicks VapoRub. However, you should consult a doctor before using Vicks VapoRub if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, if you have a chronic cough caused by smoking, or if you have been diagnosed with emphysema. You should not use Vicks VapoRub if you have ever had an allergic reaction to any of the ingredients in Vicks VapoRub including camphor, eucalyptus oil, or menthol.

Vicks VapoRub should never be used by a child under the age of 2 years.

How to Use Vicks VapoRub

To treat a cough, rub Vicks VapoRub on your chest—never under your nostrils. There are some documented instances involving children under the age of 2 and elderly adults where the use of Vicks VapoRub may have been responsible for respiratory distress and pneumonia.

Research in ferrets have shown decreased respiratory health (increased mucus production and decreased clearance from the airways) after use of Vicks VapoRub, however, this has not been confirmed in humans.

To treat muscle aches, rub Vicks VapoRub directly over the muscle. Vicks VapoRub should never be used internally or in a manner not directed. Do not use on broken skin or burns.

Side Effects

There are few documented side effects for Vicks VapoRub but some have occurred. Because the medication is topical (applied to the skin) the most likely side effects are skin irritations, rash, redness, or hives. If you notice these side effects, you should discontinue the medication and call your doctor. There have also been reports that Vicks VapoRub has caused difficulty breathing, especially in children under the age of two. If you or your child experience difficulty breathing call 911 or go to your nearest emergency medical center.

It is important to know that the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend the use of any products that contain camphor due to the potential for toxicity.

There are other unconventional ways people use Vicks VapoRub, including using it as a remedy for toenail fungus and even hemorrhoids. These off-label uses have not been well studied or approved by the FDA and may be dangerous.

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Article Sources

  • Gold Standard. (2016). Camphor; Eucalyptus Oil; Menthol. (Subscription Required)
  • Abanses, J.C., Arima, S. & Rubin, B.K. (2009). Vicks vaporub induces mucin secretion, decreases ciliary beat frequency, and increases tracheal mucus transport in the ferret trachea.

  • Vicks VapoRub Topical Ointment.

  • Cherrez, O, Calderon, JC, Guevara, J, Cabrera, D, Calero E, & Cherrez A. (2016). Exogenous lipid pneumonia related to long-term use of Vicks VapoRub by an adult patient: a case report. BMC Ear Nose Throat Disord. Volume 16, Pages 11.