Mom Was Right: Vapor Rub can Help that Cough

Article

A study that put an old, commonly used remedy to the test found that vapor rubs can indeed provide symptomatic relief from nocturnal cold symptoms in children.

A vapor rub combination of camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus oils was shown to relieve symptoms and improve sleep in children with upper respiratory infections, according to new research published in Pediatrics.

Topical aromatic compounds are widely used to treat cold symptoms, despite a lack of contemporary evidence to support this practice. In this study, which was funded by an unrestricted research grant from Procter and Gamble, researchers from Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, PA, sought to examine the use of these preparations to relieve cold symptoms in children, particularly after recent studies and guidelines have questioned the efficacy of other over-the-counter cold medications.

To determine whether a single application of a vapor rub (VR) or petrolatum is superior to no treatment for nocturnal cough, congestion, and sleep difficulty caused by upper respiratory tract infection (URI), lead author Ian M. Paul, MD, and colleagues surveyed parents about their child’s cough, congestion, runny nose, and sleep before and after one night of treatment.

A group of 138 children ages 2-11 years suffering colds were divided into three treatment groups: Vicks VapoRub, petroleum ointment, and no treatment.

According to the study’s results, children in all three groups improved, but parents who used the vapor rub reported greater relief of their child’s symptoms than the other two treatment groups. Of the 44 parents in the vapor rub group, 20 reported at least one mild adverse event, such as skin irritation, while no parents in the other two groups reported side effects.

“Despite mild irritant adverse effects, VR provided symptomatic relief for children and allowed them and their parents to have a more restful night than those in the other study groups,” wrote the authors. “Parents desire effective therapies for their children with cough and cold symptoms, and clinicians want to offer evidence-based therapies. Although limited data support many commonly available and OTC remedies for cough cold symptoms, the current data indicate that VR helps to fill the therapeutic void.”

The improved ability to sleep in children treated with vapor rubs is noteworthy, they noted, adding that a child’s difficulty to sleep during a URI “can be disruptive to their daytime functioning as well as the functioning of other family members. The significant benefit seen in ability to sleep for those in the VR group is an important finding for families especially given the positive effect that parents reported for their own sleep after VR application to their child.”

To view the study, click here.

Based on the results of this study, will you recommend the use of topical aromatic compounds to parents whose children are suffering from cold symptoms? Does the fact that the study was sponsored by Procter and Gamble influence your opinion of the results?

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