Mom Knows Best

Kids who have colds feel better and sleep better, and so do their parents, when vapor rub is used on their  chests at bedtime, a study in the current issue of Pediatrics concludes.  Mom, you were right! That's what I opine in this week's podcast, while Rick oh so politically gives Dads kudos, too.

This study randomized 138 children aged 2 to 11 years and who had upper respiratory infections with nighttime cough, congestion, and sleep difficulties to receive either a petrolatum ointment, vapor rub containing camphor and other ingredients or nothing.  Parents were blinded to which of the two ointments were used by first rubbing a bit of the camphor-containing ointment under their own nose, then applying the ointment their child was randomized to receive.  We thought that was a very clever way to blind parents.

The morning after application of the chest rub for symptom relief, parents were surveyed.  Results consistently showed that for all outcome measures, including parental sleep (!), symptom relief and the child's sleep, the vapor rub was superior.  It was associated with minor irritation at the site of application, but when a risk/benefit analysis is applied, emerges as an effective way to make the whole family feel better when a child has a cold.

This strategy seems particularly practical given the multitude of warnings and product withdrawals we've seen wtih respect to over the counter cold remedies in children the last few years. Cautious parents can welcome this very old remedy (Rick points out in the podcast that it's over 100 years old!) as one means to alleviate symptoms for their children.  I must admit I am also persuaded by the image of a caring parent using a vapor rub on his or her child.  No doubt the dose of love is also helpful.

Lest anyone think we're touting a particular product, a quick Internet search reveals many generic brands of vapor rub as well as a home recipe.  No specific endorsement implied!  Moreover, we'd like to have seen how well application of vapor rub fared over a few days rather than just one, especially with regard to skin irritation at the application site.  But overall, seems like laying in some vapor rub as cold season looms is a good idea.

Other topics this week include a lack of benefit seen with vitamin E supplements and stroke in the British Medical Journal, use of proton pump inhibitors in early pregnancy in NEJM, and use of the same with the anticlotting agent clopidogrel in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, and supervised exercise in diabetes prevention in Archives of Internal Medicine.  Until next week, y'all live well.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }


Ecig December 2, 2013 at 8:06 pm

Hi there! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give
a quick shout out and say I genuinely enjoy reading your blog posts.

Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that go over the same topics?
Thank you so much!


Bruce Wilson February 3, 2011 at 4:08 pm

I thought this was a beautiful construct to get a blind trial when it would not have seemed possible. I've challenged a number of people to come up with a way to blind test vapor rub - no one has managed. Then I get to reveal someone else's cleverness.
My wife, of course, says "oh everyone knows that vapor rub works." Conventional wisdom always trys to trump evidence.


Krystal September 3, 2011 at 10:20 pm

Just cause it's sipmle doesn't mean it's not super helpful.


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