Can You Use Too Much Vicks VapoRub?

Vicks VapoRub Topical Cough Suppressant ointment is not only used by adults, but has also been ranked the #1 best-selling branded children's cough and cold product (via Vicks). Approved for use on the chest and throat for those over the age of two, Vicks VapoRub works by providing temporary relief from cough symptoms associated with mild colds and throat irritation. For adults, the product can also be used on sore joints and muscles for pain relief.

Contrary to popular belief, Vicks VapoRub does not treat nasal or sinus congestion (via Mayo Clinic). Made up of synthetic camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol (via Vicks), the strong odors of Vicks VapoRub "may trick your brain" so it feels as if the congestion has cleared, even though it has not. For this reason, despite warnings that the product should not be applied around the nostrils, many continue to do so when seeking relief from a clogged nose.

According to the Vicks VapoRub FAQ webpage, use of the ointment should not exceed three or four applications per day. Knowing this, are there health risks in over-applying the product, particularly if used improperly on areas such as the nose?

Overuse may cause respiratory problems

Excessive use of Vicks VapoRub has been shown to cause respiratory issues, due to over-inhalation. In a 2016 case review published in BMC Ear, Nose and Throat Disorders, researchers examined an 85-year-old woman with chronic recurring allergies and runny nose. Seeking relief through the daily application of Vicks VapoRub to the hands, feet, and chest, as well as nasal inhalation over the course of 50 years, the woman developed a rare form of pneumonia, called exogenous lipoid pneumonia, that is caused by over-inhalation of fatty substances (via Journal of General Internal Medicine).

Similar respiratory problems have been observed after the use of Vicks VapoRub in children under the age of two. Dr. Bruce Rubin from Wake Forest University School of Medicine tells News Medical that the application of Vicks VapoRub below the nostrils of a one-and-a-half-year-old child caused "severe respiratory distress."

Additionally, according to experts at the Mayo Clinic, camphor — one of the three primary ingredients in Vicks VapoRub — can be toxic when absorbed through broken skin or the mucus membranes of the nostrils. But absorption and inhalation aren't the only ways in which the product can pose a risk to our health. Swallowing camphor, even in small amounts, can be fatal in young children. Vicks VapoRub can damage the cornea should the ointment come in contact with the eye. For these reasons, it's important to use the product only as instructed on the label.