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Will Vicks VapoRub Kill Me?

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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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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