jar of petroleum jelly

A decade ago we responded to a reader who put Vicks VapoRub in her nose before bed to control symptoms of post-nasal drip. We suggested that this might not be such a good idea and quoted the manufacturer: “For external use only…Do not use by mouth or in nostrils.”

We speculated that the camphor in Vicks might be the problem, but a pulmonary specialist corrected us and wrote that it was the petroleum jelly:

“As a pulmonary physician, I can explain the real reason there is a warning against putting Vicks VapoRub in the nostrils. It is not the camphor, but the petrolatum. Petroleum jelly or mineral oil can cause a chronic form of pneumonia when aspirated into the lungs.

“Most people inhale minute quantities of their nasal secretions, especially during sleep. Over time, the oil components of VapoRub or petroleum jelly can’t be cleared from the lungs. This can lead to cough, shortness of breath and reduced lung capacity.

“There are no effective treatment options for this type of pneumonia, so it is never advisable to place any oil-containing substances into the nostrils. Saline nasal spray is a much safer option for keeping the nostrils moist.”

A Controversy is Born

That warning from a pulmonologist set off a firestorm of controversy. We heard from readers who were really aggravated by this lung doctor’s caution:

“I am 71 years old and have been using Vicks in my nostrils at bedtime to ease breathing since my mother taught me from childhood. She lived to a ripe old age doing the same thing. Regardless of your warning, I am not about to stop now.”

Another was even more adamant:

“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 the doctors tell you.”

Over the last 10 years we have heard from many other people who regularly put Vicks or petroleum jelly in their noses and reported no problems. Others were totally freaked out because of worrisome lung symptoms:

“For years I relied on Vicks in my nose before bedtime and during the night. I could never figure out why I have a bad cough and can hardly breathe. Now I fear I have made the situation worse with the Vicks and I will never put it in my nose again.”

We also heard from others who experienced lung problems after using petroleum jelly or Vicks in their nostrils for long periods of time.

In 2009 researchers at Wake Forest University reported a case in which an 18-month-old child developed severe breathing problems after her grandparents put Vicks under her nostrils for a cold (Chest, Jan. 2009). This led to a study in ferrets that suggested Vicks VapoRub might increase inflammation in the airways.

March, 2015: Asthma Doctor vs. Dermatologist

Although we have warned about putting petrolatum or mineral oil in the nose for many years, some doctors never got the message. This led to this week’s newspaper column on this topic and a disagreement between specialists.

Q. I suffer from a terribly dry nose, especially at night. My dermatologist said to put petroleum jelly in my nose before bed but my asthma doctor says not to use it. He recommended saline spray instead. Who’s right?

A. We side with your asthma doctor. The label on Vicks VapoRub (which contains petrolatum or petroleum jelly) is clear: “Do not use in nostrils.”

Pulmonologists are concerned that petroleum jelly may end up in the lungs and cause irritation or chemical pneumonia. We think a saline spray that you could keep on your nightstand is a safer bet.

Share your own experience with Vicks or petroleum jelly below and please vote on this article at the top of the page. Here at The People’s Pharmacy we try to keep you informed about the pros and cons of drugs, dietary supplements and home remedies. Although we still think putting Vicks on the soles of the feet to calm a nighttime cough can be helpful, we continue to discourage people from putting Vicks VapoRub (or petroleum jelly) inside nostrils.

Get The Graedons' Favorite Home Remedies Health Guide for FREE

Join our daily email newsletter with breaking health news, prescription drug information, home remedies AND you'll get a copy of our brand new full-length health guide — for FREE!

  1. bhk
    Florida
    Reply

    MY ENT said to use Vaseline, applied with Q tip, to keep the nose moist because I am subject to nosebleeds due to a medication I use.

    I have done this for 2 yrs; stopped for 1 week after reading your article, now nose is very very dry, so I will have to go back to it.

    The saline solution I use also, but it does not solve the dry nostril issue.

    Very confusing

  2. Carol
    Maryland
    Reply

    I have read all these comments regarding Vaseline and Vicks hoping to see something about Vaseline on the lips. I have had dry lips for years and use a tiny thin coating of Vaseline on them every night. Is this a harmful practice, like using Vicks inside the nose ?

  3. Neil
    United States
    Reply

    I have Osler-Weber-Rendu Disorder or what is also known as hht. It is a hereditary bleeding condition, and it is most pronounced for me in the nose. I have used both Vaseline and a personal lubricant that is like KY Jelly. I prefer the Vaseline and have been using it for about 65 years. I am not sure about the correlation between a small amount of lubricant I add to my nose and lung problems. I am a free diver and have been able to hold my breath for longer than the average person. I am thinking that prior to my dive my lungs are capable of absorbing the necessary oxygen from the air and have not been compromised by the use of Vaseline, but I can be be wrong.

    I tried Vicks for a short time and found it to cause cold-like symptoms. However, I have spent 10 months snorkeling in saltwater (three to four hours a day), and after that time did not need a lubricant in my nose for about 2 years. We are all different and react differently two different substances. Accordingly, what might work for me won’t necessarily work for you.

  4. Vincent
    Lehighton pa
    Reply

    What would be your thoughts on using olive oil or another natural oil for nasal dryness. Yes, my mother used Vicks on me 60 years ago. Have always wondered about it, but I survived also from black iodine salve for nasal congestion. Keep up your great job of helping us stay healthy.
    Vince

  5. Miriam
    Pennsylvania
    Reply

    I, too, have been using Vicks in my nostrils for years, and I am now 89 years old! I’ve never had a problem with doing this and don’t plan on stopping unless someone can positively produce evidence that this is a bad thing to do. I keep my nostrils moist and breathe more easily when I put the Vicks in at night before going to bed. I get VERY bad nosebleeds if I neglect to put in the Vicks over a long period of time. Perhaps, because some people put a lot of Vicks in the nostrils, the doctors are advising against this practice but a little bit each night is not a problem. Hope they rethink their advice!

  6. KATHLEEN
    ROCHESTER, NY
    Reply

    I just dip the Q-tip in Vaseline and then rub it round in my nose. Been doing this for years and no more nosebleeds from a dry nose.

  7. Sky
    Australia
    Reply

    I’ve had chronic swollen turbinates (glands in the nose) for a year now, supposedly due to allergies. I’ve been relying on steroid nasal sprays this whole time to stop them from swelling completely again but even at best I still suffer with blocked sinuses ranging from a 50-70% blockage.

    The steroid sprays dry my nose, amoung other undesired symptoms. I’ve tried easing off of them but the problem just worsens again. While I’m waiting for allergy immunotherapy and possible surgery I’m thinking of trying vaseline jelly on an irregular basis, as the dry nose and throat get uncomfortable at times, and I even get occasional sores up there.

    I can see that if you used it every day or put too much on that it could cause problems so it seems the key is to use it sparingly and not when lying down. Saline spray just dries up instantly so I use it when I feel I have dust, etc. in my nose and then blow afterwards. Doesn’t do anything to moisturise.

    • Shari
      Wisconsin
      Reply

      I have the exact same problem!!! Swollen all the time. I hate to have to use the steroid nasal sprays but if I don’t I can’t breathe properly! In the winter it’s unbearable. I use an OTC saline gel. I also get sores, and it takes months for them to heal. I may try the KY jelly this winter. I’ve tried coconut oil but not much relief with that.

  8. Laurel Crowe
    Reply

    V icks helps keep my nose clear. I have COPD, so I don’t want anything more irritating my lungs. I’ve been Vicks-ing for about 2wks, to help ward off a cold. I’ve used Vicks since a kid when Momma would put it on me for many things! I’d hate to not use it!

  9. Joan
    Reply

    I have just been advised today to use vaseline inside my nose for very dry and sore nasel passages by my health clinic! I have to admit it is the first time in months I woke up with no discomfort and now I read this!

    As regarding Vicks, as a child anytime I had a cold my mother always rubbed my chest with it and placed a clean cotton hanky over it and it worked just fine but I never put it in my nose, people have been using Vicks and vaseline for decades on every part of their bodies and this is the first time I have ever heard or read anything negative about it.

    It would not be the first time a medical person came out with a statement that did more harm than good we have been told to turn our backs on natural fats like butter etc and that has now been proved totally wrong and in fact they keep cholesterol levels down, we were told not to eat egg yolks when that is the part with all the nutrients in it, we are living in a world full of toxins and instead of blaming these both Government and the medical professionals prefer to point the finger at items man has used for decades without side effects.

    I would like to see that medical person put forward a motion to the Government to have a health warning put on Vicks then we might get some clarity as to whether his comments are based on medical research or personal opinion.

    • TONY
      FLA
      Reply

      Vaseline in the nose is commonly used when SOMETHING causes a dry nose.
      BUT PLEASE NEVER, NEVER USE VASELINE OR ANYTHING OILY INSIDE YOUR NOSE. Putting Vaseline in the Nose Could Really Be Life-Threatening. THE OIL GOES DIRECTLY TO YOUR LUNGS, AND THERE IS NOTHING OUT THERE TO REMOV IT. ACCIDENTALLY MY DENTIST DAMAGED THE TRIGEMINAL NERVE IN MY MOUTH. THEN I DEVELOPED BMS (BURNING MOUTH SYNDROME) THAT DRIES YOUR MOUTH, YOUR NOSE, EYES.

      I STARTED TO USE VASELINE INSIDE MY NOSE TO HELP ME SLEEP AND NOT HAVE THE DISCOMFORT OF A VERY DRY NOSE FOR MORE THAN 7 YEARS EVERY NIGHT. UNFORTUNATELY I HAD DEVELOPED AN INCURABLE LUNG DISEASE DUE TO THE VASELINE.READ THE LABEL. IT SAID “EXTERNAL USE ONLY.” INSIDE YOUR NOSE IS NOT EXTERNAL. MY BAD.

      I HOPE THIS CAN HELP SOMEONE USING IT NOW. PLEASE STOP NOW. NOT BEING ABLE TO INHALE OXYGEN TO YOUR LUNGS IS THE WORST THING THAT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE. BELIEVE ME, I KNOW HOW SAD IT IS.

  10. barbara b
    Cumbria
    Reply

    Dont use the vicks sinex nasal spray on a regular basis. I did, and I now have a hole in my septum. It’s very embarrassing when explaining how you got it

  11. Ticha
    Windhoek
    Reply

    I have asthma and suffer from dry nose and I use vaseline petroleum jelly. I find it very effective because it melts the hard clots and I can blow my nose with ease. Soon after blowing my nose, my nose run continuously.

    My question is can removal of Sinuses help because on a full day I blow out dried clots 2’3 inches long or is there a drug that can help with stopping the running nose and the dry nose.

  12. Valerie
    NS, Canada
    Reply

    I have a severe dry nose as well; it’s almost painful. I have been using Vaseline in my nose for about 20 yrs. I haven’t had a problem, but in today’s society of everyone dying of cancer – I’m starting to get a bit concerned. Nothing works quite like it; so when I try alternatives, I end up going back to Vaseline just to get some sleep. Saline spray dries up immediately, unfortunately. So far, no lung problems.

    • Sabine
      Nederland
      Reply

      You cannot remove your sinuses, as they are cavities in your skull. I find using a steriod nose spray and regular rinsing of my nose with saline solution work the best. I am not a doctor so I suggest a visit to an ENT specialist.

  13. Joy
    Reply

    For extremely dry nasal passages, what do you think of the safety of applying a very thin coating of vitamin A &D?

  14. Trudy
    Flushing, NY
    Reply

    I have used Vick’s Vaporub daily on my toenails for years and never had a fungus again. It also makes the nails shine and look as attractive as they would with nail polish.

  15. Temeka
    Ohio
    Reply

    As a child I was told to put vicks around my nose, in my nose and to swallow a nickle size amount of it and never had an issues until I was in my late 20’s and got a cold and did my usual Vicks therapy. About 2 days later it literally hurt to take in air. Went to the ER and after a chest x-ray they asked me if I had AIDS (I don’t) cause they had never seen so much cloudiness in a patient who didn’t have it. Then the doctor ask that magic question… have you been using Vicks? What a wake up call. If the lable says not to do something then don’t cause more than likely someone has already did it and gotten sick.

What Do You Think?

We invite you to share your thoughts with others, but remember that our comment section is a public forum. Please do not use your full first and last name if you want to keep details of your medical history anonymous. A first name and last initial or a pseudonym is acceptable. Advice from other commenters on this website is not a substitute for medical attention. Do not stop any medicine without checking with the prescriber. Stopping medication suddenly could result in serious harm. We expect comments to be civil in tone and language. By commenting, you agree to abide by our commenting policy and website terms & conditions. Comments that do not follow these policies will not be posted. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Your cart

Total
USD
Shipping and discount codes are added at checkout.