Myth Blaster: Vicks VapoRub and the Cough

HM, Illinois, received an email about an unusual method of reducing or stopping a persistent cough due to colds, et cetera:

Virtuvian Drawing - Leonardo Da VinciSorry, no graphic for this one, and don’t laugh, it works 100% of the time although the scientists at the Canada Research council (who discovered it) aren’t sure why. To stop nighttime coughing in a child (or adult as we found out personally), put Vicks VapoRub generously on the bottom of the feet at bedtime, then cover with socks. Even persistent, heavy, deep coughing will stop in about 5 minutes and stay stopped for many, many hours of relief.
Works 100% of the time and is more effective in children than even very strong prescription cough medicines. In addition it is extremely soothing and comforting and they will sleep soundly. I heard the head of the 
 Research Council describe these findings on the part of their scientists when they were investigating the effectiveness and usage of prescription cough medicines in children as compared to alternative therapies like acupressure. Just happened to tune in A.M. Radio and picked up this guy talking about why cough medicines in kids often do more harm than good due to the chemical makeup of these strong drugs so, I listened. It was a surprising finding and found to be more effective than prescribed medicines for children at bedtime, in addition to have a soothing and calming effect on sick children who then went on to sleep soundly. An adult friend tried it on herself when she had a very deep constant and persistent cough a few weeks ago and it worked 100%! She said that it felt like a warm blanket had enveloped her, coughing stopped in a few minutes and believe me, this was a deep, ( incredibly annoying!) every few seconds uncontrollable cough, and she slept cough-free for hours every night that she used it. So, if you have grandchildren, pass it on. If you end up sick, try it yourself and you will be absolutely amazed by the effect. What do you have to lose?

Myth Blaster Verdict:

Inconclusive. Many home remedies have its values and certain products have been found to have a myriad of uses that it was not designed for. I agree that too often children are harmed by over-the-counter medicines where not properly administered or the parents just don’t read the instructions and dosage amounts carefully.
Snopes, of course, has covered the subject of this email with the following excerpts:
While we can’t confirm the claim about the head of the National Research Council Canada’s (NRC) having extolled the application of Vicks VapoRub to a child’s feet as an effective counter to nighttime cough, that recommendation had been proffered by people in the health industry prior to this March 2007 e-mail. (The e-mail, by the way, refers to that body as the “Canada Research Council,” but its proper name is the “National Research Council Canada.”)
Vick’s usage instructions state nothing about slathering their VapoRub; instead, they instruct those looking for temporary relief of cough due to common cold to rub a thick layer of the salve onto their chests and throats.
In a related chain email that is circulating, the email author claims that VapoRub is useful to treat toenail fungus that Snopes also addresses in their posting:
However, Vicks does address another VapoRub rumor that postulates using the product to combat toenail and fingernail fungus (an alternative use of the product that has been ballyhooed by a number of folks for years, including author Dr. Peter Gott, whose “Dr. Gott” syndicated health column at one time appeared in more than 400 newspapers.) Says an automated response at the phone number for VapoRub consumers (800-873-8276): “We do not recommend using VapoRub for the treatment of toenail fungus. Consult your doctor or pharmacist on the best treatment to meet your needs. Thanks for calling.”
According to the College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) over-the-counter remedies have no clinical value:

There is no clinical evidence that over-the-counter cough expectorants or suppressants actually relieve cough, said guidelines chair Richard S. Irwin, M.D., of the Universityof Massachusetts Medical School in Worchester, Mass. … Instead, adults with acute cough or upper airway cough syndrome (also known as postnasal drip syndrome) should be treated with a decongestant and/or a first-generation antihistamine such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine). … The guidelines also strongly recommend that adults up to 65 years old receive the new adult pertussis vaccine; about 28% of pertussis cases annually in the U.S. occur in adults, according to the ACCP. … “Cough is very common in children. However, cough and cold medicines are not useful in children and can actually be harmful,” Dr. Irwin said “In most cases, a cough that is unrelated to chronic lung conditions, environmental influences, or other specific factors, will resolve on its own.”

Some old-fashioned remedies like terpin hydrate are hard to find without prescription. who discusses this and also mentions applying VapoRub to the feet and chest to relieve a common cough:
Terpin hydrate was a popular cough medicine from the late 1800s until the mid 1990s. Then the FDA banned it on the grounds that it had not been proven effective. As an expectorant, terpin hydrate was supposed to loosen mucus and relieve coughs. It was derived from natural sources such as oil of turpentine or compounds found in oregano, thyme and eucalyptus. Terpin hydrate is not available in the U.S. Instead, you may want to try a different old-fashioned remedy. Vicks VapoRub contains similar ingredients: oil of turpentine, thymol and eucalyptol. Don’t take it internally. Instead, Rub it on the chest or the soles of the feet to ease a cough. Another approach is thyme tea. Use a half a teaspoon of dried thyme leaves from the kitchen spice shelf per cup of tea. Lemon and honey improve the taste.
Coughing is a natural thing for one’s body to do. The reason being is that coughing brings up mucus from the lungs, which prevents it building up and causing pneumonia and/or pleurisy. Yet, part of the “cure” of a cold is that one gets plenty of rest and drinking plenty of liquids, preferably warm drinks. Rest is hard to get when you are kept up all night with a persistent cough. Post nasal drip from allergies will cause one to cough as well, and thus the combined reason of eliminating the nasal drip, which in turn reduces and/or stops the coughing. All remedies, either over-the-counter or natural do not cure the cold, but helps one deal with it by alleviating the symptoms that makes us so miserable. Clinical studies has revealed that those who take a daily does of extra vitamin C and eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and spicy foods have frequently less colds and when they catch a cold virus – it doesn’t last very long. A long time ago I worked at a factory that had several Mexican workers there (who brought me home made tortilla “sandwiches” that their wives made in return for providing English learning tapes and a bit of tutoring). I noticed that they rarely caught colds, even in the cold months in Illinois. I believe it is because their diet consists of vegetables and fruit, as well as their love for spicy foods. This phenomenon is also noticed in other cultures who enjoy spicy foods, such as Latin Americans and the Mediterranean people.
Later during my travels in the world, in places like Korea, I found that the diet of spicy foods, and use of garlic in flavoring foods also had the same effect. Following this practice, I have found that I rarely catch colds, and when I do, they don’t last long, generally.
It might be noted, however, that for some unexplainable reason applying Vicks VapoRub to one’s feet does alleviate the cold symptoms, most importantly getting a good night’s rest which is part of the road to recovery from colds and flu – and plenty of liquids, like water, tea, and juices. 
At the HerbaLab website, you can read further about natural cough remedies.
Native Americans have about 300 remedies using natural products produced from Native American plants. For example, to cure a headache and relieve discomfort of menstrual cycles, Native Americans who lived in regions where Birch trees grew, scraped the material from the inside of bark, which was then boiled like a tea – a natural source of aspirin. Those remedies (300) are recognized by the American Medical Association.
Today you can find many of the natural plant products on the shelves of pharmacies and stores like Wal-Mart, some being from plants found in Asia and used by Asians for thousands of years – like Ginseng. While some of the claims that the product label states is not officially approved or proven by the AMA or the FDA, the results are sometimes better than taking just vitamins as a food supplement.
Many people today use these products because of the modern lifestyle which does not promote proper nutrition that home-made meals once provided for the basic requirements of the human body. In addition, as one grows older, there are food supplements that are required because the body either requires more of something or no longer produces enough naturally. At one web site of home remedies, it states that eating hot chili peppers, horseradish or other spicy foods is a natural expectorant because it loosens mucus, which is the underlying reason why people cough. The other reason why some people cough is due to smoking or being around chemical vapors that cause coughing after prolonged inhaling of such things. In this case, it is not mucus overall, but the lungs being irritated and trying to cleanse itself of the foreign material that in long terms is harmful.
Hot tea has always been useful in dealing with the symptoms of the common cold – it provides both an expectorant, as well as fulfilling the need for increased liquid consumption in order to purge the body of the cold virus.
As the email ends: “What do you have to lose?” – in this case, it is not harmful to apply VapoRub on your feet – just remember to put a pair of sox on afterward so your sheets don’t become impregnated with Vicks. Let me know if it works for you, if you try it. It seems to have worked for me.
Editor’s Note: I am not a physician and the only medical training I have had is combat medicine in the military. The information presented here is from researching the Internet for sources of reading and information, and those sources are considered reliable. In other words, please don’t enter comments of this article asking me for medical advice – I am not legally qualified to give such advice, nor was that the intention of this article; but to examine the claims of the above-mentioned email that is circulating the Internet and find sources of information that can substantiate or disclaim the email’s content. KAL

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