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Skeptical Aussie Embraces Vicks VapoRub on the Soles of the Feet for Cough

Smearing Vicks VapoRub on the soles of the feet may be able to calm a troublesome nighttime cough AND overcome nasal congestion (stuffy nose)

As cold and flu season arrives, people all around us have begun coughing as well as sniffling. Having a cough that keeps you awake at night is terrible, especially when you are already feeling lousy. But what can you do to calm that cough? One reader in Australia tried an American home remedy, though he was quite doubtful that it would help. A US pharmacist says Vicks eased his nasal congestion!

Cough Was Keeping Him Awake:

Q. I had been coughing for a week with the flu and I was so tired because it had kept me awake. Besides, the constant cough made my neck sore.

I read on your website about smearing Vicks VapoRub on the soles of the feet to stop a nighttime cough. I live in Brisbane, Australia, and figured this must be some stupid American fad. How could it possibly work?

My wife said, “Don’t be such a baby; just do it.” I tried it and slept all night. Vicks may not work for everyone, but it really helped me!

A. As far as we can tell, there has been no research involving Vicks VapoRub on the soles of the feet. A study in the journal Pediatrics (Dec., 2010) showed that Vicks on the chest worked better to calm kids’ coughs than no treatment or a placebo chest rub.

Vicks VapoRub on the Soles of the Feet:

We have heard from many other readers, including some even more skeptical than you, that applying Vicks VapoRub to the soles of the feet and then putting on warm socks to protect the sheets helps ease a nighttime cough. Thanks for sharing your personal experiment.

A Pharmacist Put Vicks VapoRub on the Soles of the Feet for a Stuffy Nose:

Q. I am a pharmacist and I recommend OTC cold and allergy products every day. I had a stuffy nose recently and I took everything I recommend to my patients (e.g. NyQuil, Sudafed, antihistamines etc.). NOTHING worked.

An old friend told me I should put Vicks VapoRub on the soles of my feet. I was desperate, so tonight I did. Within five minutes my nose UNCLOGGED! It’s amazing.

A. We’ve heard about using Vicks VapoRub on the soles of the feet to stop a persistent nighttime cough. Using it for nasal congestion is new to us, but it may work in the same way.

We suspect that the menthol, camphor, eucalyptus oil, thymol and other essential oils in Vicks trigger special receptors in the skin. These TRP channels may activate nerves that affect congestion and cough.

Do you like scientific explanations for how home remedies work? If so, you may enjoy our podcast on this topic. Here is a link to the program:

What Is the Science Behind Home Remedies?
People often assume that home remedies are just old wives’ tales with no evidence behind them. Learn about the science behind home remedies 

You can read about some amazing home remedies and the science behind them in our eGuide to Favorite Home Remedies

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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