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The vaporous virtues of Vicks VapoRub - (2/6/2018)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

The pharmacist was setting up a new display of cold and cough products since many of his patients were sniffling and sneezing. There was a wide variety from which to buy. Some worked while others, in the pharmacist’s opinion, did little or nothing to relieve the symptoms of a cold. One item he did count on to ameliorate cold symptoms was Vicks VapoRub. First formulated in 1894 by pharmacist Lunsford Richardson, Vicks is a mixture of menthol, camphor, and petroleum jelly, as well as the oils of eucalyptus, cedar leaf, nutmeg, thyme, and turpentine. 

Over the years, the pharmacist’s patients told him about the many other uses for Vicks. For instance, Mrs. Hicks said that she swears by Vicks to relieve her migraine headaches. She simply rubs some of the ointment into her temples and she can feel the pressure in her head lifting. Julie, a self-conscious teen, says she uses Vicks as an emergency zit remover. She applies it to a newly emerging pimple and after a few hours, the pimple is gone. The pharmacist explained to Julie that the ability of Vicks VapoRub to clear acne is due to the anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties of the camphor ingredient. Mr. Jones says that Vicks repels mosquitoes. Its ability to shoo away biting insects is because it contains cedar leaf oil, a natural insect repellent. Mr. Jones dabs some on the ankles, inner elbows, inner wrists, and neck to keep bugs from biting. And if he does get bitten, he rubs Vicks over the bite and covers it with a bandage.

While toenail fungus can be treated with oral – and often expensive – medication, regular application of Vicks to the nails can help. The affected nails will turn dark as the ointment does its job, and eventually, a healthy nail will grow out. And while your socks are off, Vicks will smooth those cracked heels. Did you bash your shin on the coffee table? Spread a thin layer of Vicks VapoRub and salt over a fresh bruise. The ingredients work to quickly dissolve the blue and black coloring by encouraging a faster breakdown of the blood in the bruise. Pets do not like the smell of Vicks. So, place an opened jar of Vicks VapoRub anywhere you want your cat or dog to stay away from. Vets often recommend this to train indoor pets from eliminating in undesired locations. For example, if your pet has a habit of going in your closet, place an open jar at the entrance.

Ironically, the one thing that Vicks VapoRub does not do is relieve nasal congestion. According to a Mayo Clinic report, the strong menthol odor of VapoRub tricks your brain, so you feel like you are breathing through an unclogged nose. By contrast, decongestant tablets and nasal sprays may narrow blood vessels in the lining of your nose, leading to reduced swelling in your nasal passages.

VapoRub has drawbacks other than its ineffectiveness as a nasal decongestant. It is unsafe for any use in children less than 2 years of age. In adults and older children, apply it only on the neck and chest. Swallowing a few teaspoons of camphor — one of the main ingredients in VapoRub and other topical medications, such as Campho-Phenique and Bengay — can cause fatal poisoning in toddlers. Keep it locked away from young kids. Finally, if VapoRub gets in the eye, the cornea can be injured.

The pharmacist chuckled when Ms. Kane rushed up to him and said, “What’s the biggest jar of Vicks do you have? I need it for a few things around the house.”

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.com. Read more at www.rx-press.com     


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