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Vicks VapoRub May Harm Children: Researchers Recommend Natural Treatments

Thursday, January 15, 2009 by: Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor
Tags: VapoRub, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) Vicks VapoRub has long been a popular over-the-counter treatment for symptoms of cough and congestion. But now research published in the January issue of CHEST, the peer-reviewed journal of the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP), concludes the salve may stimulate mucus and airway inflammation -- and, in some cases, dangerously interfere with the ability of infants and toddlers to breathe.

Bruce K. Rubin, MD and his colleagues at Wake Forest University School of Medicine's Pediatrics Department decided to study the effects of Vicks VapoRub on the respiratory system after they treated an 18-month-old girl who went into severe respiratory distress after the salve was rubbed under her nose. The researchers used ferrets (because they have an airway anatomy and cellular composition similar to people) to study the impact of the salve on mucus production and accumulation in the airways, as well as the build up of fluid in the lungs.

Healthy ferrets and ferrets with induced tracheal inflammation (to simulate a person with a chest infection) underwent testing after they were exposed to Vicks VapoRub salve. Results showed the exposure caused mucus secretion to rise significantly in both normal and inflamed airways. Mucus clearance, however, decreased. Although the study only tested Vicks VapoRub, the researchers concluded that similar products, including generic brands, would be likely to also cause adverse reaction in infants and toddlers. Vicks VapoRub's ingredients include camphor,menthol,Eucalyptus oil, turpentine and petrolatum, made from petroleum.

"The ingredients in Vicks can be irritants, causing the body to produce more mucus to protect the airway," Dr. Rubin, the study's lead author, said in a statement to the media. "Infants and young children have airways that are much narrower than those of adults, so any increase in mucus or inflammation can narrow them more severely."

Although the salve is not supposed to be used on children under age 2, the researchers noted that many parents ignore this labeling advice and use Vicks VapoRub to try and relieve very young children's cold and flu symptoms, usually by rubbing the ointment on the chest or feet. The idea that something sold over-the-counter must be safe is clearly not only inaccurate but sometimes can have severe health consequences.

"I recommend never putting Vicks in, or under, the nose of anybody -- adult or child. Some of the ingredients in Vicks, notably the menthol, trick the brain into thinking that it is easier to breathe by triggering a cold sensation, which is processed as indicating more airflow. Vicks may make you feel better but it can't help you breathe better. Cough and cold medicines and decongestants are dangerous and neither effective nor safe for young children. Medications to dry up nasal passages also have problems," Dr. Rubin said in the press statement.

He emphasizes that natural therapies are a much better alternative: "The best treatments for congestion are a bit of saline (salt water) and gentle rubber bulb suction, warm drinks or chicken soup, and, often, just letting the passage of time heal the child." Dr. Rubin also pointed out that any time a child struggles to breathe, it should be considered a medical emergency and the youngster should be seen by a physician as soon as possible.

"Parents should consult with a physician before administering any over-the-counter medicine to infants and young children," James A. L. Mathers, Jr., MD, President of the American College of Chest Physicians, stated in the media release. "Furthermore, the American College of Chest Physicians and several other health-care organizations have concluded that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines can be harmful for infants and young children and are, therefore, not recommended."

For more information, visit the American College of Chest Physicians' website: http://www.chestnet.org/about/press/releases...

About the author

Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA's "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine's "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic's "Men's Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.

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