Its Cold & Flu Season Again… Can Vicks VapoRub On Your Feet Help?

I, Helen, have been really struggling with a headcold and laryngitis since Thanksgiving. While not serious, my cough is certainly annoying; particularly at night when I go to bed. I’ve been having to get up within 1-3 hours to take cough medicine, wait for it to take effect, and then get sleepy again.  When I was at the drug store today, I remembered reading something, somewhere about Vicks VapoRub and the feet.  So, I picked some up, came home and searched for the something that I had read.

Where Did Vicks VapoRub Come From?

According to Wikipedia,  Lunsford Richardson developed the formula in 1905 when he created a salve for his children, after traveling to France. He named the product for his brother-in-law Dr. Joshua Vick.

I remember my mother slathering it on my chest and under my nose when I had a cold and cough as a child.  I also remember it burning my nasal passages, feeling really hot, and trying to wipe it off once my mother left the room.  I think I used it on my oldest two children but haven’t given it a thought in 15+ years.  When I told Mark that I was researching Vicks, although his family were big Vicks VapoRub users, he asked me to sleep in another room due to the smell.

What About It On Your Feet?

In response to my search, there were multiple results with both positive and negative attributions of using Vicks VapoRub on your feet at night to relief cough.  My internet reading indicated that rubbing it on directly on the soles of the feet (put socks on after!)  just before going to bed, definitely WORKED or maybe DIDN’T WORK for people.  Take your pick. Seemed to be pretty evenly split.

The believe is that Vicks VapoRub will stop nighttime coughing in a child or adult if applied generously  on the bottom of the feet at bedtime and then cover with socks.  Supposedly, even persistent, heavy, deep coughing will stop in about 5 minutes and stay stopped for many, many hours  of relief.  Positive attributions say that it 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.

Too Good To Be True?

This theory has been repudiated by,, and by the National Research of Canada (who supposedly discovered this).

From Urban Legends:  “Though not disproven, the above claims have been neither 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.””

From My Own Experience

I decided to try it myself.  Since I’ve been hacking and coughing every night for five nights, I thought I had nothing to lose.   I applied a thin layer to both feet, put socks on, and immediately washed my hands so the vapors wouldn’t be too close to my nose and mouth.  While I could still smell the VapoRub, it wasn’t a strong smell.   Soon after applying I did feel a warm glow, although I’m also in menopause so could have been a gentle hot flash.  Admittedly, I didn’t apply liberally, just a thin layer.  Initially my cough increased and then decreased after about 10 minutes.  I’ve yet to go to sleep, so not sure how it might help tonight.  I’ll update this post if there is anything to add in the morning.

Any ContraIndications?

The consistent contraindications were not to use on children under two years of age, not to put in your eyes, not to swallow, not to put into the nasal passages, and that Proctor & Gamble doesn’t advocate for this use of Vicks.

My readings also suggested tha tif you follow the guidelines on the canister, it doesn’t seem carry a very high risk.

Similar to my research on Epsom Salts, I think it comes down to what works for you given the injury / illness and how strongly you believe in the product.  Studies don’t prove efficacy for applying it to your feet to relieve cough.  Only anecdotal evidence supports and refutes.

Helen Russell

Certified Pedorthist

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