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).

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  1. DH

    I raised my sons on Vicks Vapro rub on the neck with a handkerchief tied, on the chest and yes….under the nose. I still do this for myself when I am having a cold or sinus…also rub some on forehead if I have a headache.
    My grandchildren also receive this same treatment from their parents. No ill effects and very comforting.

  2. S.H.

    re:Vick’s vaporub; don’t throw out the baby with the bath water; I now use Vick’s in a tube; it lacks petroleum product; instead of under the nose, rub Vicks onto the soles of the feet; works well; by the way: put it on the toenails to rid toenail fungus; lots cheaper than Rx’s.

  3. E.H.

    Many years ago, to my horror, our daughter (three years old at the time) ate a half of jar of Vick’s Vapo Rub. This was probably in 1970. I inadvertently left an open jar on the counter. I felt like an unfit mother and learned a huge lesson that day, not for even a second, leave anything out. Happened so fast. She went into convulsions, fever, ended up in the hospital to have her stomach “pumped.” A terrible experience for her and her parents. Just to alert folks to this incident that happened to our family. I don’t know if the ingredients have changed since then, but it made her extremely ill. She was in the hospital for over a week back then.

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