The Risks of Vicks VapoRub® in Children Under 2 Years of Age

Vicks VapoRub® is commonly used for colds and nasal congestion. But do you know the risks of Vicks VapoRub® in small children?
The Risks of Vicks VapoRub® in Children Under 2 Years of Age

Last update: 02 September, 2022

Vicks VapoRub® is an ointment used to safely and effectively decongest the airway of older children and adults. But why is it not recommended for use in children under 2 years of age? We’ll explain below and also share with you what precautions to take when using this medication. Be sure to keep reading to discover the risks of Vicks VapoRub®!

What is Vicks VapoRub®?

Vicks VapoRub® is a menthol-based ointment developed for personal and home care. Its main components include eucalyptus oil, camphor, thymol, and menthol. But it also contains some inactive ingredients such as cedar leaf oil, nutmeg oil, petrolatum, and turpentine oil.

What is it used for?

Vicks VapoRub® was originally formulated to treat laryngitis or bronchitis, thanks to the properties of menthol and petrolatum. In fact, there are several studies that support the use of this ointment in the treatment of various respiratory tract conditions due to the following proven effects:

  • Relieves congestion: Although it’s not in itself a decongestant drug, the strong vapors of menthol and camphor generate a refreshing sensation in the nasal passages. As a result, certain receptors in the brain are activated that awaken the sensation of breathing better. According to a study published in Pediatrics, the product has shown great effectiveness in relieving nighttime symptoms of upper respiratory infections.
  • Calms coughs: Camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol act as cough suppressants. However, their use isn’t recommended in chronic respiratory pathologies, such as asthma or emphysema, nor in cases of productive cough or phlegm.
  • Improves muscle pain: Menthol and camphor have a topical analgesic function. Thanks to the refreshing sensation they produce, they temporarily block the painful stimulus coming from the joints or muscles.
A baby crying with a runny nose.
Respiratory symptoms can be very bothersome for babies. However, you should be very cautious with the products used to alleviate them, as they could be counterproductive–even natural ones.

Precautions for using Vicks VapoRub®

Although this ointment has many uses, there are also some contraindications for its use and it’s best to know them:

Despite being a product with natural components, it shouldn’t be ingested due to the possible toxicity that they generate when they enter orally. In fact, it’s a good idea to keep the container out of the reach of children and not to heat it before use so as not to cause burns.

What are the risks of Vicks VapoRub® for children under 2 years of age?

The Vicks VapoRub® label contains a legend advising parents not to use it on children under 2 years of age, and here are some of the reasons why.

Some studies by the American College of Chest Physicians suggest that the use of this ointment may increase inflammation in the infant’s airways and increase mucus production. As these passages are narrower than those of adults, a slight narrowing of their diameter could lead to a considerable reduction in the air that the infant breathes.

Consequently, more inflamed bronchi and increased secretions could lead to respiratory problems much more serious than a banal catarrhal condition.

Precautions with the use of camphor

In addition to the above, a publication in Pediatrics describes that some forms of camphor oil can trigger seizures in young children. In fact, this element is included in the list of the most toxic drugs for children.

Other clinical manifestations related to the use of camphor are allergic reactions, keratoconjunctivitis, and bronchospasm. Therefore, it’s important to be attentive during the first hours of application in order to detect changes in the skin or in the child’s breathing, since camphor can be absorbed quickly through the skin and cause adverse reactions in a short period of time.

For this reason, the manufacturer of Vicks VapoRub® offers a safer option for children under 2 years of age, called Vicks BabyRub®. This alternative, in addition to containing aloe vera and fragrances in a petroleum jelly base, avoids the use of camphor oil.

A mother using a nose aspirator on her baby.
Keeping babies’ airways clear also helps them achieve temporary relief from symptoms. And it keeps them from ingesting products that are potentially toxic to them.

Vicks VapoRub® is only one treatment alternative

Vicks VapoRub® is used as an alternative to oral medications or as part of an overall treatment for congestion and colds. However, it’s not recommended for the entire population and some precautions should be taken into account when administering it.

As a general rule, it’s important to be careful with over-the-counter products and to read all directions before using and applying them on children. If in doubt, it ‘s best to consult a pediatrician.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.