Parents with young children are faced with a difficult dilemma. When their youngsters come down with colds, parents want to give something to soothe symptoms. Congestion and a nighttime cough can keep both children and parents awake.
The trouble is, there are no good cough remedies for kids. The cough suppressant dextromethorphan (DM) in so many products has not been found helpful for children (Clinical Pediatrics, Sept. 2006).
So what’s a parent to do? Listening to a child cough all night is distressing. But giving a child ineffective medicine that may have side effects is not the answer.
Perhaps it is time to consider a really old-fashioned remedy. Vicks VapoRub was created more than a century ago in Greensboro, North Carolina. Pharmacist Lunsford Richardson developed a chest salve for his own children containing exotic ingredients he learned about while traveling in France.
The combination of menthol, camphor, eucalyptus oil, cedarleaf oil, nutmeg oil, thymol and turpentine oil was named in honor of his brother-in-law, Dr. Joshua Vick. Families around the world have used Vicks VapoRub to calm coughs and congestion ever since.
Does it work? Until a few weeks ago there was no recent research to demonstrate effectiveness. But investigators at Penn State College of Medicine performed a fascinating study (Pediatrics, online Nov. 8, 2010). Over 130 children with colds were recruited. Each child was randomly assigned to a treatment group: they got Vicks VapoRub, plain petroleum jelly or nothing.
In order to disguise the distinctive aroma of Vicks VapoRub, parents were given Vicks to apply beneath their own noses before opening the unmarked container they were to smear on their child’s chest.
The results were intriguing. Old-fashioned Vicks VapoRub actually did ease cough and congestion. Most strikingly, children treated with Vicks “were significantly more able to sleep than were children randomized to receive petrolatum.” Parents slept better too.
We’re not surprised. Vicks VapoRub has persisted for generations while other patent medicines have fallen by the wayside. We have even heard of an adaptation:
“For years my sister has put Vicks on the soles of her children’s feet. I also did it for my children. It helps for coughs. The main thing is to rub the Vicks in, creating friction and warmth to the bottoms of the feet, put on warm socks and then put them to bed. It is the best medicine there is for little ones who are sick.
“My 18-year-old came to me one day and said, ‘Mom, do my feet for me, please.’ He had a cold, so I rubbed those size 11 feet, and gave him warm socks to put on. He loved my personal touch and I was happy to do it.”