Friday, February 19, 2016

Vicks VapoRub on the feet (update)

I saw an interview recently where a well respected pediatrician completely dismissed the value of any natural remedies. He didn't believe in doing anything for his patients that wasn't completely "science based". In his practice, coughs just have to run their course.
He and I wouldn't get on very well. I love science too, but in my  years of practice I have seen many people feel quite a bit better from reaching for some alternative solutions. As long as they are benign and not taking the place of necessary prescribed medication, I love to see what relief can be achieved without standard medication. This post is all about one of the odder things I have tried. It seems to help!

Seasons come and go. Occasionally I find something that seems to work well for patients, but then the illnesses quiet down and I don’t think about it much. With all the never ending coughs plaguing my patients and families, I recently added a link in the “what’s going around section”. The link was to one of my earliest posts about the benefits of putting Vicks Vaporub on the feet. Several dozen folks clicked through and followed up with feedback that this seemed to be the difference maker. The kids had much quieter nights without nearly as much coughing. With cold season in full force, it seems like it is worth updating and re-posting.

The internet is a minefield. It is a goldmine of valuable information. Unfortunately, it also has the power to terrify unwitting folks who go online to look up symptoms or whatnot.
Most wise folks know enough to realize that the good information is muddled up with loads of crap. It is hard to know what is real. Therefore, when I got an email several years ago touting the magic of applying Vicks VapoRub to the feet to stop a cough, I promptly dumped it into my spam. Frankly anything that tells you that it works 100% of the time is 100% false (have fun with that statement!) But then a variation of the same email came to me again and I thought it might be fun to see if there was any merit to it.

The claim is that covering the soles of the feet with the VapoRub and then putting socks on is very helpful for coughs. I am always looking for safe, natural remedies to help relieve symptoms of colds and coughs for my patients without loading them with systemic medications. So, several winters ago I set out to do a completely unscientific study.
While talking to the hundreds of my Noe Valley Pediatric parents who were trying to relieve the coughs that were keeping their kids up at night I enlisted them to give the "Vicks on the feet" a try. I asked them to report back.

To my surprise, well more than 50% of the folks who tried this seemed to find that it was quite helpful; imagine that! Even Snopes doesn't completely debunk it; just labels it as unproven. No one who tried it had any ill effects. I occasionally completely forget about this, but someone asked me about it the other day. With the colds and coughs out there in full swing, this might be something you want to try.

Before applying anything topical, it is important to make sure you or your child do not have a reaction. Place a small dab on the leg and rub it in. If there is no irritation within 30 minutes or so, you should be fine. (I do this same test with a new sunscreen.)

 Folks ask about the difference between the adult and the baby Vicks. I think that either is safe for the feet. If you happen to have only the regular Vicks in the house, feel free to use it. If you are going out to the store and you have options, go ahead and get the baby version.That is especially preferable if you are going to put in on the chest as well as the feet.

Along with the Vicks, don't forget about steam, sinus irrigation and keeping heads of beds/cribs on a slant.
If you have an infant who is under 4 months of age with a cough that is keeping them up or interfering with their eating, they need to be seen.
If the cough is lasting more that a couple of weeks it is probably worth a listen.
Any significant shortness of breath needs to be evaluated.
Tis the season and we are seeing loads of coughs and colds out there, so if you or your family members are hacking away, unfortunately you are running with the pack.

I still do love getting feedback, so if the Vicks works magic, let me know!!

One of my mom readers who is also a physician shared the following warning from a physician reference called Up To Date and it is certainly worth adding to this post.
Approximately 11,000 pediatric camphor exposures are reported to United States poison control centers annually [2]. Exploratory ingestion of camphor-containing products by children younger than six years of age is most common, accounting for about 80 percent of exposures. Toxicity from topical absorption of camphor is less common than from ingestion but has been described after application of unlabeled camphor oil in a four month old infant [4] and copious application of a labeled topical ointment hourly for 10 hours in a three year old child

With anything, please use common sense child proofing precautions and don't leave your kids alone with  anything that they can ingest.
I remain confident that the ingredients in Vicks, when applied topically are quite safe.
Nurse Judy

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