Vicks VapoRub - Treatment for Cough and Muscle Aches

Topical Ointment

Sick boy in bed coughing with Teddy-bear
Vicks VapoRub for Kids. Kin Images / Getty Images

What is Vicks VapoRub Used For?

Vicks VapoRub is a topical cough 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. There are some documented instances involving children under the age of 2 and elderly adults, where use of Vicks VapoRub may have been responsible for  felt that use of Vicks VapoRub for respiratory distress and pneumonia.

Research in ferrets have shown decreased respiratory health (increased mucus production and decreased clearance from the airways) after use of Vicks VapoRub, however this has not been confirmed in humans.

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.

It is important to know that the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend the use of any products that contain camphor-containing products due to the potential for toxicity.


Abanses, J.C., Arima, S. & Rubin, B.K. (2009). Vicks vaporub induces mucin secretion, decreases ciliary beat frequency, and increases tracheal mucus transport in the ferret trachea. Accessed: August 29, 2015 from

Cherrez, O, Calderon, JC, Guevara, J, Cabrera, D, Calero E, & Cherrez A. (2016). Exogenous lipid pneumonia related to long-term use of Vicks VapoRub® by an adult patient: a case report. BMC Ear Nose Throat Disord. Volume 16, Pages 11.

Gold Standard. (2016). Camphor; Eucalyptus Oil; Menthol. Accessed: September 29 from (Subscription Required) Vicks VapoRub Topical Ointment. Accessed: August 29, 2015 from

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