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Studies Show Vicks VapoRub Harmful For Children Under 2

January 13, 2009

A new research study suggests Vicks VapoRub, the salve used to relieve cough and congestion symptoms, can cause severe breathing problems in children under 2 when inappropriately applied directly under the nose.

Using the product in this way can cause a young child’s tiny airways to swell and fill with mucus, triggering severe breathing problems, researchers wrote in the journal Chest.

“The ingredients in Vicks can be irritants, causing the body to produce more mucus to protect the airway,” said Dr. Bruce K. Rubin, the study’s lead author from the Department of Pediatrics at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

“Infants and young children have airways that are much narrower than those of adults, so any increase in mucus or inflammation can narrow them more severely.”

He said, however, that the company is really clear it should never go under the nose or in the nose for anybody and it shouldn’t be used in children under 2.

Generic versions of the salve could also cause the same negative effects in infants and toddlers, Rubin added, although his research only tested Vicks.

The Wake Forest researchers became interested in the effects of VVR on small children after they cared for an 18-month-old girl who developed severe respiratory distress after the salve was applied directly under her nose.

During the study, the researchers observed ferrets””which have an airway anatomy similar to humans””with a chest infection and saw that the product increased mucus secretion and decreased the animal’s ability to clear mucus.

“We were able to document changes that we think explain this,” Rubin said.

The finding came as a surprise to David Bernens, a spokesman for P&G. “Vicks VapoRub has been proven safe and effective through multiple clinical trials. It has been in the market for over 100 years,” he said.

He noted that the label says the product should not be used in children under age 2 without a doctor’s advice, and not under the nose.

Rubin said that since the initial episode, emergency doctors at the medical center have begun asking all parents of children in respiratory distress if they used the Vicks product in a similar way and they have seen two more cases.

He also recommended never putting Vicks in, or under, the nose of anybody — adult or child.

“Parents should consult their doctor before giving any over-the-counter medication to infants and young children, particularly cough and cold medications, which can be harmful,” said Dr. James Mathers, president of the American College of Chest Physicians.

Rubin suggests the best treatments for congestion is a bit of saline (salt water) and gentle rubber bulb suction, warm drinks or chicken soup, and, often, just letting the passage of time heal the child.

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