Q. I’ve been plagued with post-nasal drip for decades. I also have a deviated septum that can make my breathing labored at night. I notice this especially when I’ve cleaned during the day. In the morning I have to clear my throat repeatedly for about 45 minutes because of the post-nasal drip upon rising.

Two weeks ago I decided to put a thin film of Vicks VapoRub up my nostrils before bed so I wouldn’t have to wake up. Voila! No more labored breathing and no more post-nasal drip and raspy throat the next morning. Am I just imagining that Vicks helps? Is it harmful to put Vicks up my nose every night?

A. Although it was once common practice to put a dab of Vicks inside the nostrils, the manufacturer of Vicks VapoRub is now quite specific in its warnings: “For external use only… Do not use by mouth or in nostrils.” That is partly because one ingredient, camphor, can be toxic if absorbed into the body.

Lung experts have also warned us that long-term use of petroleum jelly in the nose might allow this oily substance to collect in the lungs, especially at night while people sleep. This might lead to something called lipoid pneumonia. We have received several comments from visitors to this website that they have developed lung problems after decades of applying Vicks VapoRub to the inside of the nose.

We would not worry about using Vicks in your nose for a few days or weeks, but we would certainly caution against long-term use.

Anyone who would like to know more about unusual uses for this old-fashioned remedy can find some amazing stories in our Guide to Unique Uses for Vicks.

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  1. jackie
    murfreesboro tennessee

    Susan your great grandmother should have not eaten it and it may have helped, but she should not have eaten it. Now I do not disrespect my elders but she could have died eating that for all those years.

  2. Susan

    In the fifties, my great grandmother ate a spoonful of Vicks every night before going to bed. Based on an online conversation with a number of people, this was common. Since my great grandmother was in her 90s when she died and had been doing this for years, it wasn’t that harmful. Comments?

  3. tyu

    Horrible post-nasal drip here, going on a week now. Vicks on my chest has no effect. I now hold the vicks container up to my mouth and nose. It seems to help a little.

  4. BZ

    I am wondering if you ever receive comments about pulmonary hypertension?

  5. S K

    Instead of treating the symptoms, how about finding the cause? Could it be allergies are causing you to have the post-nasal drip? The reason I suggest it is that you said that it gets really bad after cleaning. Could it be the dust in the air? Perhaps a mask would help.
    I had a post-nasal drip until I stopped eating wheat products. (Actually I eat no gluten products and this helped a lot.) Also dust causes my nose to run.

  6. Al D

    I also have a deviated septum and had problems with postnasal drip and discomfort at nighttime. While browsing in CVS I discovered an over-the-counter product in a tube called Ayr, a saline nasal gel, and found it solved my nighttime problems. It’s placed in the nostrils and has a pleasing smell and very soothing. It’s much more comfortable than spraying with a saline nasal spray.

  7. DJS

    Your problem was mine until I started to you a NETI Pot. Check it out on the WEB.

  8. ACL

    Please be very careful about putting Vicks up in the nostril. I used to do this and developed painful sores at the site of the Vicks. Apparently the naturally occurring bacteria that live in the nose were trapped by the petroleum jelly and festered. The same happened to my daughter. Now I dab it on the outside edges only.

    • Aida
      Hanover, DDR

      Neti pot is one of the stupidest inventions ever, a waste of my money.

  9. Gin

    I would like to suggest using a saline nasal spray EVERY night just before lying down for sleep. It works wonders and I feel also helps ward off colds somewhat. When I don’t use the nasal spray I am totally clogged up and find myself breathing through my mouth which compounds the problem.

  10. Cindy B.

    I have reduced problems with phlegm by taking 1 capsule a day of NAC, N-acetylcysteine. It is a form of an amino acid. You can read about it on the internet.

    • Aida
      Hanover, DDR

      I am going to try this one (N-acetylcysteine), thanks for posting.

  11. cah

    Years ago, every mother slathered her youngsters with Vicks, made us inhale via vaporizer Vicks fumes, and stuffed it up our noses. Am happy to report, that in spite of this, I have made it to 73, and my hubby is 76. The vet even advised me to put Vicks up the nose of our pony when said pony was congested.
    Just a bit of history on use of Vicks in days of yore!

  12. jln

    I would recommend a soothing oil in the nose at night called Ponaris, recommended by my ENT doctor. You can get it in a Compound Pharmacy. It has oils of pine, eucalyptus, etc. and cottonseed oil. It was used by NASA scientists traveling in outer space. I also recommend nasal irrigation with a neti pot sold in Whole Foods and yoga accessories websites.

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