Q. I went to the hospital for an unrelated problem that prompted an X-ray and CT scan. The doctors found five nodules in my lungs.
I met with a pulmonologist to discuss this. After I mentioned that I put Vicks in my nostrils every night, as I have for 10 years, and he looked at my CT scan, he diagnosed me with lipoid pneumonia.
I am 41 and in very good health, so this was quite a surprise. I thought it was important to share.
A. Several years ago we started warning readers not to put Vicks VapoRub into their nostrils. A pulmonologist alerted us to the possibility that one of the ingredients in Vicks, petrolatum, could get into the lungs and cause chronic inflammation.
We got quite a few indignant responses from people who said they had been doing this for years. Here is just one example: “I read your warning not to put Vicks VapoRub in your nose. That’s stupid. I’ve been stuffing my nose with Vicks for years and I have never once come down with pneumonia. You can tell that to your know-it-all doctor. You shouldn’t buy into everything that doctors tell you.”
Your experience demonstrates that the pulmonologist’s warning was on target. Thank you for letting us know.

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  1. HEO

    I’ve always used Vicks under my nose, but not in it. That’s how both of my grandmothers taught me to use it, and also to spread it on my chest. Works great for congestion and colds. Haven’t ever had lung issues from doing it like tha… my grandmothers seem to have been very wise.

  2. Elaine

    Vicks near the nostrils definitely helps with congestion, especially at bedtime. HOWEVER, I definitely recommend against using it inside your nose, or even on the rims of the nostrils. I have a jar that’s about 4 years old and would swear the menthol & eucalyptus are getting stronger over time. Applying it in or on the rim of the nostrils results in sore spots that last several days — I suspect it could contribute to some serious tissue damage, so I no longer use it that way.
    This hasn’t been mentioned on this forum yet, but I noticed that my cat seems very attracted to the scent of the ointment. I checked online and it said eucalyptus is very toxic to cats, so keep it away from your pet.

  3. J C

    My mom used to put Vicks on the tip of her tongue then touch the back of her throat when she had a sore throat. She did this for years. For the last 15 or so years she’s had this chronic irritable cough. She was sent for allergy tests but they never did find the cause. Is it possible that her Vicks habit is the culprit?

  4. Cheryl

    Hi. In searching for information about my recent problems breathing, I came across these posts.
    I have asthma and when I had a bout of bronchitis along with it 3 months ago, a friend suggested I boil some vicks vapo rub in some water, stick a towel over my head and breathe in the steam for comfort! So I did.
    Ever since that date I have not been able to be free of taking prednisone for the inflammation of my lungs. It has not been properly diagnosed as yet, because we weren’t sure if I had a relapse of a bacterial infection, but we are very close to it now. In fact I see a physician today and I’m quite sure I will hear about the petroleum product being in my lungs.
    I never thought twice about doing what my friend suggested with the steam since my mom used to put it in a vaporizor in my room at night when I had colds etc.

  5. Don B.

    I used to do this as a child 50 or 60 years ago. Now when I wanted to do it saw the label. Also note it is white and hard. The old Vicks was blue and more a paste in a blue jar. I will look for it in the tube (probably Amazon) as had not heard of it before.
    I think they changed the formula, can’t let good things alone.

  6. Vickie in TX

    This seems unbelievable to me. I use vicks all the time. Especially when I get a bad head cold and I can’t sleep. I figured instead of using nose spray, I would just stuff wads of vicks up in my nose. I always sleep like a baby and have never had pneumonia in my life.
    As a young girl, my grandmother swore by Vicks. She stuffed it in her nose all the time and she was never sick. She lived to be 95 yrs old and I just don’t believe Vicks is harmful. I don’t plan to discontinue using it in this way, because without it, I think I would have been dead a long time ago.
    If a person has some kind of bad immune system, maybe they couldn’t handle it, but for a normally healthy person, I don’t see any bad outcomes.
    This is only my opinion, so use at your own risk, but I love Vicks and plan on using it until I die. Thanks for reading.
    West Texas

  7. Angelika

    Oh wow I have done this for quite a while too, it’s just so addicting but I am trying to quit.

  8. AJR

    An I also might add that I put quite a bit of the coconut oil in my nostrils – right before I laid down and went to bed.

  9. AJR

    I was wondering if putting coconut oil inside my nose would be as dangerous as a petroleum based oil. I did two times at night, and now after reading this, I’m worried!
    People’s Pharmacy response: Though we would generally suggest a water-based lubricant would be better, coconut oil might not be as dangerous as petroleum jelly. We don’t have any research on this.

  10. J.H.

    I’ve been using Vick’s as it has a calming effect, could just breathing it too much be harmful?

  11. JMC

    Burt’s Beeswax Lip balm works well for me. No petroleum in it as it is made out of beeswax.

  12. CP

    The only problem I have with breathe right strips is that the adhesive irritates the bridge of my nose, and if I use them two nights in a row it tears the skin off of my nose.

  13. Rem

    For J.A.L. and anyone else who is using Vicks to clear their nose– if you haven’t tried Breathe Right strips, I would recommend them as a harmless and usually effective alternative. They go right across your nose and the spring-like tension in the strip pulls both sides of your nose outward, clearing your nasal breathing passages. They really work to improve breathing and help prevent snoring, and you will probably feel better immediately! They are a bit on the expensive side (but are available at Costco, etc.) but have no side effects. They are certainly worth trying for anyone with a temporary or chronic nasal breathing problem.

  14. amzh

    As an adult, I read the label and I now use the Vicks underneath my nostrils, on the upper lip, simply because I like the smell when I have a cold. I feel it helps me breath better. As a child, there were people who stuffed their nostrils with it. Also there were those who swallowed some in the belief that it helped cure a bad cold. I also used it liberally on the chest and back when any one in the family had bad colds. The vapors seemed to help.

  15. J.A.L.

    I read, with interest, the advice about NOT putting Vicks in the nostrils. My wife pointed out the article in the newspaper. I had seen a similar article years ago.
    During the night, I usually get up a couple of times or so. If my nose feels a little stopped up, I put some Vicks on my upper lip, just outside the nostrils. This is a condition where blowing the nose would have no effect. I just want my nose clear so that I can get back to sleep. I suspect that a lot of Vicks users also need their nostrils clear to get good sleep (quite important) as well as to limit snoring (also very important) and to not wake up with a very dry mouth. It would have been helpful for the article to get positive and suggest some easy, reasonable and effective alternate means of keeping the nostrils clear. It indicated that Vicks in the nostrils is bad but left us dangling, with no where to go, to solve the problem that Vicks seem to solve for many.
    I am almost 81 and still going mostly strong.

  16. Chris

    I have been plagued with sores on the inside of my nose for years. I too would use petro based products until I read about the possible effects. Peoples Pharmacy recommended a personal lubricant like KY jelly. I tried that but to no avail. My sister, who is a nurse, said hospitals use bacitracin in areas such as the nostrils. I have been using it and it seems to help. I didn’t see petrolatum listed in the ingredients. Is this safe to use?

  17. LGF

    Rem said it all.

  18. Brent B.

    I’ll have to tell my mom about this one! She does have a doctor who told her to use nasal irrigation, so that should help. Personally I use a small bottle of essential eucalyptus oil and sniff that if I ever have any congestion, and it does the trick. Don’t know why anyone would put something like “nasal napalm” on their mucus membranes, but I guess some people just can’t read the label — or won’t? Thanks for these useful information!

  19. Debi

    My dad uses this all the time, and I’ve tried it a few times. Although I like the menthol I inhale, I don’t like the residue that the petroleum part leaves. I have COPD and the menthol helps, but I am scared to use the petroleum. Is there another way to get that menthol smell without the petroleum base?

  20. KH

    My daughter has asthma and finds the use of a vaporizer at night helpful for her symptoms. She adds some Mentholatum (which has petrolatum in it) to the water. Would this also cause a problem? Or does the heat break up the fat in the petrolatum and render it OK to breathe? It is a very small amount she puts in – perhaps a tablespoon or less.

  21. MDC

    People really should learn to READ THE LABEL ! It says right on the box under warnings…do not use in nostrils.

  22. Rem

    The example comment that the writer has been using Vicks in his or her nostrils for years and never had pneumonia reminds me of legions of people who used to (and some still do) smoke cigarettes and haven’t (yet) come down with lung cancer. Sure, the amazing George Burns smoked cigars and lived to be 100 — but the cemeteries are full of millions (millions!) of people who died well before their time due to smoking and lung cancer. A good percentage of them were in total denial about the dangers of smoking (as was I until about 25 years ago). Don’t be a chump — pay close attention when there are red flags flying on important health or safety issues and don’t think that you will be the only ONE who will be totally exempt from the effects of bad habits (smoking, drinking, Vicks in the nose, not buckling seat belts, cocaine, etc.).

  23. s.h.

    Why not look at vick’s in a tube; worth the extra cost.

  24. Paul G.

    Perhaps this is like so many things in life. I would suspect that occasional “vicks in the nose” would be Ok while chronic use is probably not OK. We need to walk life in balance and even good things when used excessively can have a negative impact on our lives.

  25. DWD

    So it there an epidemic of lipoid pneumonia? All I hear are a few anecdotal single stories. The doctor was undecided until he heard the daily use of Vicks. He may be guilty of associating hoofprints with horses when there really was a zebra in the area.
    As you might guess I as still a skeptic. I agree it is possible, but I am of the opinion that a person is much more likely to die in a driving accident than from putting Vicks up their nose. I would love to see some hard evidence on incidences of lipoid pneumonia from ingestion of oils into the lungs. Wikipedia tells me it can come from outside the body or from the body itself. How many cases of lipoid pneumonid do we even have in the US, as compared to things like heart attacks, bleeding ulcers and such?
    I agree using Vicks in the nostrils every night for 10 years did increase this person’s odds, but there is no direct proof. There is scant info on google about the condition and much of it is 50 years old info. One article was chopped off, but the gist was that using mineral oil as a laxative might be a cause as well. I remember when Vicks had a nosedrops was was definitely greasy.
    Since reading about this problem here I have reduced my usage of Vicks, petroleum jelly, and Vitamin A+D ointment (I have even tried Abolene) in my nostrils. I use a saline nasal gel and saline nose drops more often. But excessive air conditioning and winter dry heat drive me back to this remed on a much less frequent basis (1-4) times per month. And this last article has prompted me to rethink my usage habits. I have often used it at bedtime, but I think I will try to modify my “habit”.
    The first would be to use a minimal amount, because like Fearless Fosdick said about Wildroot Creme Oil, a little dab’ll do ya. So no more gobs of it on a Q-tip, just a thin coating. The second will be to NOT use it at bedtime anymore, as that would seem to me to leave it in the air passages longer. Being upright means more of it will be swallowed and end up in the stomach instead of being sucked into the lungs.
    My winter time nose bleeds have been reduced drastically in the last two years because I had some blood vessels in my nostril cauterized because I did not want to have a nosebleed before a heart procedure.

  26. ONW

    I have 1 nodule in my lung,1 cm… never put vicks in my nose.. , ound thru arm xray for shoulder pain, also nodule on thyroid, I am 80 yrs old and by my mercke manual says age related, what do you think???

  27. msw

    As children our mother had us swallow a bit of vicks (for bronchitis). I was diagnosed (by biopsy) with sarcoidosis- -chest wall-as an adult almost 40 years ago I am now 71-anything new on causes of Sarcoid?

  28. CBL

    Thanks for the information. I used to put Vick’s in my nose, too, until I (finally) read the label. On the jar under WARNINGS, it says “For external use only… do not put in mouth or nostrils.” I was tempted to disregard the warning, but then remembered my mother’s advice: When in doubt, don’t.

  29. JB

    I recently had a friend die as the result of a pneumonia that the hospital could not cure. He also had a heart condition but it was the pneumonia that killed him. He also was a Vicks in the nose user. I would weigh on the side of caution. Vicks outside the nose…ok. Vicks inside the nose…no no.

  30. S.H.

    Buy Vick’s in the tube; costs around $8 (depending on the store) but DOES NOT CONTAIN ANY PETRO PRODUCTS, IS MORE CONCENTRATED AND I LIKE IT SO MUCH, I DON’T USE THE VICKS IN THE JAR EXCEPT ON TOE NAILS or insect bites

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