Q. You ran a letter from a forensic crime scene detective who used Vicks VapoRub to mask nasty smells on the job. You should have said, Don’t put Vicks VapoRub in your nose, your horse’s nose or your meerkat’s nose! You idiots shouldn’t be writing a pharmacy column if you don’t know that Vicks will coat the lungs and should never be inhaled.
A. We warn readers not to put Vicks in the nose for fear of triggering chemical pneumonitis (lung inflammation). In fact, the column you are referring to closed with this caution: The manufacturer warns that Vicks VapoRub is “for external use only,” and should not be put in nostrils. Regular use of petroleum jelly in the nose may increase the risk for lung irritation.
This warning is more important than ever, since researchers at Wake Forest University recently reported a case in which an 18-month-old child developed severe breathing problems when her grandparents put Vicks under her nostrils for a cold (Chest, Jan. 2009).