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Everything You Need to Know About Vicks VapoRub

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Updated May 13, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What is Vicks VapoRub Used For?:

Vicks VopoRub is a topical medication that is applied to the skin to treat coughs, and applied to muscles to relieve aches and pain. Both symptoms are frequently caused by the common cold. There is no documented evidence that it actually alleviates respiratory symptoms, although it may provide the sensation of relief. As a relief for sore muscles, it definitely does provide symptomatic relief.

There are other unconventional ways people use Vicks VapoRub, including using it as a remedy for toenail fungus and even hemorrhoids. These off label uses have not been well studied or approved by the FDA, and may be dangerous.

Who Can Use Vicks VapoRub?:

Most people over the age of two can safely use Vicks VapoRub. However, you should consult a doctor before using Vicks VapoRub if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, if you have a chronic cough caused by smoking or if you have been diagnosed with emphysema. You should not use Vicks VapoRub if you have ever had an allergic reaction to any of the ingredients in Vicks VapoRub including camphor, eucalyptus oil, or menthol. Vicks VapoRub should never be used by a child under the age of two.

How To Use Vicks VapoRub:

To treat a cough, rub Vicks VapoRub on your chest -- never under your nostrils. To treat muscle aches, rub Vicks VapoRub directly over the muscle. Vicks VapoRub should never be used internally or in a manner not directed. Do not use on broken skin or burns.

Side Effects of Vicks VapoRub:

There are few documented side effects for Vicks VapoRub but some have occurred. Because the medication is topical (applied to the skin) the most likely side effects are skin irritations, rash, redness or hives. If you notice these side effects, you should discontinue the medication and call your doctor. There have also been reports that Vicks VapoRub has caused difficulty breathing, especially in children under the age of two. If you or your child experience difficulty breathing call 911 or go to your nearest emergency medical center.
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