The People's Perspective on Medicine

Can Vicks VapoRub on Your Soles Calm Your Cough?

Have you ever massaged Vicks VapoRub on your soles at night to get some sleep without coughing? Many readers find this is a helpful remedy.

Sometimes a cough can linger on long after the respiratory infection that triggered it has vanished. What do you do for such a cough? We have heard from a surprising number of people that smearing Vicks VapoRub on your soles can quiet even a persistent cough. 

Have You Tried Vicks VapoRub on Your Soles?

Q. I’m skeptical by nature. I was hesitant to try Vicks VapoRub on my feet, but for the past three days I have had the worst cough ever. I’ve been coughing every hour on the hour nonstop. My ribs feel like I’ve been in the ring with Mike Tyson.

Two nights ago I was really struggling to get any rest. My husband suggested putting Vicks on the soles of my feet. I was desperate, so I slathered on the Vicks, put on socks, and within 5-10 minutes the coughing STOPPED. I was able to sleep all night!

In the morning the coughs started up again and lasted all-day-long. A few hours before bedtime I tried a prescription cough medicine. Nothing. If anything, my coughs seemed to be getting worse until I was almost vomiting.

Hubby to the rescue again: “Try the Vicks VapoRub on your soles.”

I did and had the same results. With 5-10 minutes the coughing subsided. I was able to rest comfortably. I wish I knew the science behind this. Whatever it is, it’s worked for me like a charm two nights in a row. I am a believer.

Why Does Putting Vick VapoRub on Your Feet Help a Cough?

A. You and many other readers agree that this remedy works. We have even come up with an explanation for why Vicks and many other remedies work for common ailments. The skin on the soles of the feet (and that on the palms of the hands, too) has receptors that can sense compounds like the camphor and menthol in Vicks VapoRub. The transient receptor potential (TRP) channels that react to these agents can reverse muscle cramps and seem to do something similar for a reflexive cough.

Vicks VapoRub also contains thymol, which has been shown to ease coughs. One mother did a brief “controlled” study on her twins that may interest you. You can read more about the science behind Vicks VapoRub on your soles and other such approaches in our eGuide to Favorite Home Remedies.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Yes, but too bad it is in a petroleum base. There are other types of ointments/liniments with similar herbal/essential oil ingredients now without the petroleum. Or, you can make your own using coconut oil, olive oil and almond oil. There are recipes online, but you can always tailor your own ingredients like adding thyme oil for example. I don’t put petroleum on my body. The skin absorbs everything you put on it, especially the bottom of your feet where many vital meridian points exist. I recently read an article about a study that actually ran blood tests on women after they applied nail polish. They found harmful toxic chemicals in their blood stream just hours after application. Known endocrine disruptors and potential carcinogens like Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP), Toluene, and Formaldehyde. The skin is our largest organ and absorbs way more than you imagine.

I have used the Vicks vapo rub on my feet when having a coughing problem since the first time I read about it in PEOPLE’S PHARMACY. Have had immediate relief whenever I have used it. I always have it on hand and may not need to use it for months, but really, really glad to have it when needed.

I have had glaucoma for more than 30 years so cannot use decongestants. I long ago tried the Vicks on soles treatment when I had a cold and was amazed that it greatly lessened all effects/discomforts of colds. Within a minute or two after I apply the Vicks, I can taste it in my mouth. It has worked wonders for me for decades, and as far as I know there are no side effects.

I’m speechless.

This past December I had bronchitis, pneumonia and a sinus infection. I thought I would cough my lungs up. I started putting Vicks on my feet with socks, and I could sleep thru the night enter. It is a lifesaver. I recommended it to all my friends who went thru the same thing I had.

Vicks worked on my cough, but putting it on the bottoms of my feet was messy, and if I cough during the night, disruptive. I found that rubbing a little vicks on my wrist works just as well. I keep a jar next to my bed. Its wonderful.

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