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Does Vicks VapoRub on Soles of Feet Relieve Coughing?

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Does Vicks VapoRub on Soles of Feet Relieve Coughing?
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Viral message claims that coughing in children can be stopped "100% of the time" by applying "Vicks Vapor Rub" to the bottoms of their feet and covering the feet with socks at bedtime.

Description: Home remedy / Folk medicine
Circulating since: March 2007 (email version)
Status: Anecdotal, not scientifically proven (see details below)

Email text contributed by David C., March 26, 2007:

Subject: For Coughing

Sorry, 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 Vapor Rub 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 Canada 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 accupressure. 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?

Analysis: Though not disproven, the above claims have neither been scientifically tested nor confirmed, nor is there a generally accepted medical explanation for how putting Vicks VapoRub on the soles of one's feet might possibly relieve a coughing fit. Some people who have tried it insist the treatment really works, but a smattering of anecdotal reports does not amount to proof.

"From the standpoint of traditional medicine," says pediatrician Vincent Iannelli, MD, "there is no good reason that rubbing Vicks VapoRub on a child's feet should help a cough. In fact, many studies show that over-the-counter cough medicines don't even help when you use them as they are intended.

"Why might it work?" he continues. "It could be that your child can still breathe the vapors, even if you put it on their feet. Or maybe the active ingredient, menthol, acts to dilate the blood vessels in the feet, and this triggers some reflex that quiets the cough. There are other reflexes that cause coughs, like we often see when we clean wax out of children's ears, so it is not unthinkable that there are others."

The principle of 'counter-irritation'

The remedy wouldn't have seemed so strange to doctors a hundred years ago, who often prescribed liniments and poultices containing mild irritants such as mustard, garlic, or camphor to the chest and to the soles of the feet to relieve symptoms of colds and whooping cough. Like Vicks VapoRub, the active ingredients of which include camphor, eucalyptus, and menthol, these preparations would have had the effect of stimulating blood flow to the skin. Cataloged under the heading of "counter-irritants" in early twentieth-century medical texts, such treatments were based on the principle that "internal morbid processes may at times be relieved by creating external irritations" (Horatio Charles Wood in Therapeutics: Its Principles and Practice, 1908).

To be sure, there was vigorous debate over how counter-irritants actually worked. "One commonly offered explanation," wrote pharmacologist Horatio Wood at the time, "is that there is only a certain amount of blood in the body, and that if the blood be drawn to one part there must be less in another part. Surely, however, the amount of blood drawn to the skin by a mustard plaster is too small sensibly to affect the general mass in the body. It is more probable that the phenomena of counter-irritation are the result of reflex disturbances of the vaso-motor nerves which influence the size of the blood vessels, or of the trophic nerves which directly affect nutrition."

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