Tuesday, 27 January 2009

There's the rub

Yesterday’s entry engendered some great comments and discussion. Thanks to all those who read it and emailed me with your thoughts. But I have to warn you, even though I have opinions on everything, silliness is one of my joys. So not everything will be essays on the human condition. Exhibit A:

There's the rub: Vicks might make kids sicker Vicks VapoRub, the menthol salve used to soothe generations of congested kids, may actually make some little ones worse, a new study suggests.

Now, not only is this old news, it’s barely news at all – unless you’re a Bajan, and then it might be important information. When I was a child, Vicks was a medicine cabinet staple. (We only knew it as ‘Vicks’. ‘VapoRub’ was, as far as we were concerned, a highfalutin add-on that came later.) You almost wanted to get a slight cough so you could be put to bed with a good rub-down. Then you would lay there wanting to feel sorry for yourself, but really feeling relieved that you had no joint or muscular complaints and had therefore avoided the hellfire blaze of Bengue’s (Benjees!) Balsam.

My sister had a special relationship with Vicks. (That line is going to make her life miserable over the next few days. Sorry, Sister.) She was very fastidious about her bedtime comforts. I think if she could have managed to source a babbling brook and an owl to say “Woo woo” all night, she would have. But since endangered birds and naturally occurring, inland bodies of water were scarce, and Vicks only cost 65 cents from Ms. Alleyne’s shop, it would have to do. It helped her sleep better, so she always had it around.

It was only one night as Sister was inspecting her Vicks pan that she noticed the fine print and read it aloud: Do not place in mouth or nostrils. Use sparingly under nostrils.

Well this was news to us. Surely, that wasn’t always there. We used to apply Vicks like a face mask: extra heavy on the T-zone. We also used to stuff gobs of it up our nostrils when my mother wasn’t looking; and my sister - who was the Vicks adventurer - would put a little in her mouth and regale us with stories of what we were missing. If she had had a drug habit, she would have been the one going “Dude, this is even better when you eat it. Try it!”

But it seems the warnings were well-founded. The above study was prompted when an 18-month-old girl showed up in an emergency room in respiratory distress after her grandparents rubbed Vicks VapoRub beneath her nostrils. The child recovered, but people became so nervous about Vicks that this study was commissioned, and revealed the following:
The strong-smelling ointment often dabbed under noses or rubbed on the soles of feet can be an irritant, increasing the production of mucus and decreasing how fast it’s cleared, potentially causing dangerous breathing problems in infants and very young children.

“In a small child who may be hypersensitive, this can make the airways even smaller,” said Dr. Bruce K. Rubin, vice chairman of the department of pediatrics at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C. “It can narrow them severely.”

VapoRub only fools the brain into thinking airways are open, Rubin said, by using active ingredients such as menthol, camphor and eucalyptus oil that trigger cold sensors. In reality, congestion remains. “I would recommend never putting the Vicks in, or under, the nose of anybody — adult or child,” said Rubin, whose work is published in the latest issue of the journal Chest.
So it turns out that Vicks is an elaborate hoax! Well, not exactly. I think most parents who use the product on their children realize it’s primarily a matter of comfort and not some magical healing balm. But we should all be more aware of what we’re administering to our bodies, even if it does seem harmless and a little like grey Vaseline. Some experts believe the study is inconclusive and alarmist, and parents interviewed say they will continue to use it. So I doubt that Vicks will ever disappear from medicine cabinets around the world. And even if people do stop buying it, my sister will probably be perfectly happy to buy the entire inventory and stockpile it under her bed.

The above photo is taken from a story about a zoo using Vicks to calm meerkats and stop them from fighting. This mongoose is a bit concerned about the forced medication of her relatives in captivity. Read about it here.


  1. Does the same apply for natural medicines such as albas oil?

  2. I know that Olbas products contain eucalyptus oil as well, which is one of the ingredients deemed responsible for the adverse reactions. All in all, I would probably proceed with caution regarding all such products. The articles suggests that as long as the user seems tolerant,though, there's no cause for undue alarm.

  3. Miss Ting, are you trying to stop an age old tradition. Ingrid don't listen to her! :) I am sorry, I am still laughing.... ok now I am serious. I think what this teaches us is that with all medicines , you should read the fine print! Everything in moderation :)

    This is sad but this blog is now one of the highlights of my day! :)

  4. lol.. to tink i now buy a tin..dis ain't stopping me though cause when i stuff up a little vicks does wuk.

    and ingrid ain't de only body dat eat vicks girl dat use to feel good going down battling de mucous...lol

  5. Try as I might, I fear that I cannot hold out any longer. So, to clarify a few misinterpretations about Ingrid and the "Vicks Saga" and salvage a modicum of dignity, here's the deal:

    Each one of the 3 caddle daughters was "treated" to the "mummy vicks routine" whenever she detected a slight sniffle. Mum purchased the vicks which was kept in the "out of reach" medicine cabinet and intent on remedying all coughs and colds within the shortest possible time, mum, understandably concluded that if the ointment worked so well when applied externally to the nose, throat and chest areas, surely it would do wonders if applied closer to the source of the infection. Hence, mum would ignore any sickly protests on our part, and proceed to insert the vicks into our nostrils and past pursed lips, into our mouths.

    Now, since the then puny me, was the one who suffered the majority of these childhood ailments, I unfortunately ate inordinate gobs of vicks (not forgetting the heaping spoonfuls of the ghastliest tasting, homemade raw onion and sugar!!!)probably much more than the average joe-ann.

    As Gail, Marsha and I lounged - with mum working close by - in the backyard one Sunday afternoon, I noticed an old "vicks pan" and proceeded to inspect the blue, fine print at the back, noting with horror, the warning that the ointment was "for external use only". Eager to put an end to mum's overdone vicks remedies and save my stomach from further torture, I gleefully proceeded, aloud, to share this ground-breaking news with my sisters and mum.

    Mum seemed quite concerned at the time but I'm not quite sure that this diminished the infamous "vicks sessions" any. So while, they weren't self-inflicted and we all endured the "vicks remedies", I daresay that Gail, Mar and I always found them ultimately and remarkably soothing.

    So I've filled in a few important blanks which, Mar, being the youngest, might have forgotten...and while I may have one "vicks pan" somewhere in the back of my medicine cabinet, I'd hardly call it the wonder drug.


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