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Doctors Warn Against Camphor Use In Children

April 27, 2009

Poisonings in several New York City children have sparked doctors to warn parents to avoid using imported camphor products.

The alert is reported in the May issue of the journal Pediatrics about three toddlers that suffered seizures in January 2008.  Either they had eaten camphor products, inhaled camphor or had it rubbed on them as a cold remedy.  The products included folk remedies, pesticides and air fresheners.  The three toddlers were treated at a Bronx hospital and did recover. 

Dr. Hnin Khine, who treated the three children, said that several other children developed similar symptoms, but authorities were not able to confirm if camphor was the source.  She is an emergency room physician at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx.

The products are made from evergreen camphor trees that are native to Japan and China, or from synthetics.

Camphor is the odor that is used in mothballs.  Vicks VapoRub contains low government approved doses of camphor, but the label advises against children under the age of 2 using it.

Khine said that the products implicated in the poisonings were imported white cubes or tablets and contained doses higher than U.S. regulations allow.

They are popular in ethnic pharmacies and discount stores, and are sometimes labeled “alcanfor,” the Spanish word for camphor.

Camphor can be absorbed through the skin and nose, and young children are especially vulnerable.  Poisoning symptoms can be stomach aches, nausea, vomiting and irritability.

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