Does Vicks Vaporub Work?

Does Vick’s VapoRub work? The short answer: no one really knows.

In a study of 144 children conducted from 2008 to 2010, it was revealed that vapor medicines like Vick’s VapoRub help to alleviate the symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection (URI). How it does that, exactly, is still up for debate.

The VapoRub Test

Doctors tested whether a bedtime application of a product containing camphor to the chest of a child would result in parental reports of improvement of the child’s symptoms, as well as improved child sleep.

Tested also was parental sleep, with applications being given to the parents.

The findings were significant. The treatment group tested better than the no-treatment group.

But… Does It Work?

Researchers have theorized as to why the camphor might improve symptoms, including the (perceived) sensation of improved airflow.

(Researchers emphasized, with very good cause, that both parent and child slept better.)

In fact, the researchers went as far as to suggest that the improvement in symptoms may be entirely the result of perception or placebo effect. Whatever the reason, Vicks VapoRub appears to offer a possible intervention for children and parents suffering the effects of upper respiratory tract infection.

In the case of a mother using a product such as Vick’s Vapor Rub during pregnancy there is nothing to suggest that VR rubs would be harmful to an unborn child. The three main ingredients, menthol, eucalyptus, and camphor, are safe during pregnancy.

The application of Vick’s Vapor Rub on feet is another possible example of placebo effect. There have been no official studies conducted (at time of writing) to demonstrate the effectiveness of this foot-based approach. Still, there is a litany of personal testimonials and ringing endorsements asserting the legitimacy of vapor rubs on the feet used to treat chest congestion.

What Else Can VapoRub Do?

The uses for VR formulas vary beyond what has been mentioned so far, including use for dry skin, tension headaches, eczema, counteracting asthma triggers, toenail fungus, and tennis elbow.

The vapor formulas and applications themselves vary considerably as well. Next time you pull out the VapoRub, try one of these suggestions in a humidifier for the same type of nasal-clearing effects:

  • White Camphor oil. (the active ingredient in Vick’s VapoRub)
  • Eucalyptus oil. (another ingredient great for clearing congestion and asthma)
  • Lavender oil (even gentler on infants)

Be it through public trial or scientific study, the signs seem to be indicating that Vicks VapoRub is a viable treatment for both children and adults suffering from URI. As science progresses, doctors will hopefully have a better understanding of how the exact mechanism responsible behaves.