Vicks is great stuff, but please read the directions!

See that sweet little girl rubbing Vicks on her dolly? Perhaps she’s a young serial killer, practicing for the future.

You know how you go about your life doing things you always thought were good for you and then you found out you were, um, poisoning yourself?

Well, that happened to me recently when I was struggling with a nasty head cold, the first I’ve had since I quit teaching high school three years ago. Before my retirement, I often faced children who had no qualms about coming to school sick, coughing and sneezing on me with wild abandon. Like most teachers, I suffered at least two or three colds every year.

I’d been blissfully free of that particular scourge, until some big bad bug recently tracked me down. And I’ll admit, I’d forgotten how horrid a simple head cold can be. I’m sure you’re aware of the coughing, sneezing, runny nose, headache, leave-me-the-hell-alone-I’m-dying-here symptoms that come with a cold.

As I’d been down that tissue-littered road before, I jumped into action. I drank hot peppermint and honey tea and copious quantities of water. I stayed in my jammies wrapped in blankets for five days. (Another great thing about being retired is that you can recline in your pajamas 24-hours-a-day without excuses and no one cares.)

And I knew something else that would make me feel better: Vick’s VapoRub. I bet every single one of you has that dark blue jar with the green top in your medicine cabinet right now. Come on, we were raised on the stuff. Moms would rub that slimy goo on us as if it was a magic cure-all. Some people even put it on their feet, though I’ve never tried that.

Somewhere along the line, maybe 20 years ago, I decided I liked the smell of Vicks. So, I got in the habit of putting a dab beneath my nose at bedtime. So soothing, yes?

Except that I just read you should never, ever, put Vicks under your nose. What?

I have often been a bit smug about my efforts to stay healthy. I never smoked and drink in moderation. (Okay, not always. But I do now.) While I’ll admit to dabbling lightly in illicit drugs in my youth—Come on! I grew up in the 70s and 80s!—that was a long time ago. I exercise regularly and get my rest. I eschew sugary drinks and eat healthy food. I take my medicine when the doctor looks at me, frowns, and tells me I must. I try to see the positive side of things. And yet, it seems, I’ve been poisoning myself all along.

With Vicks!

Vicks looks so harmless in that cute little blue jar.

In case you’re wondering, Vicks first appeared on the market back in 1905 and is owned by Procter & Gamble. It’s intended for “use on the chest, back and throat for cough suppression or on muscles and joints for minor aches and pains.” However, one of the main ingredients in Vicks is camphor, which is defined as “a neurotoxin with a chemical structure that allows easy penetration of the blood-brain barrier. Camphor also has irritant properties to skin and mucosa.”


Now, all this has me wondering about my mother, who, as I recall, always told us to put a bit of Vicks beneath our little red noses whenever we were sick. Not the maternal type, I’m now wondering if Mary Anne couldn’t wait for us to leave home for college and was trying to knock us off early, using Vicks as her weapon of choice.

I also read that Vicks should only be used up to three times daily when one has a cold. I began counting how often I’d recently placed some beneath my nose so I could breathe. When I ran out of fingers, I realized I might be doomed. I’m trying not to think about that blood-brain-barrier thing.

The irony is scientists don’t believe Vicks actually works. It just tricks your brain into thinking it works, so you feel better. But doesn’t that mean it works?

I’m so confused.

Now, I’m not saying Vicks is a bad product. It’s just that one should use it as recommended. Still, I did try to throw my Vicks away, but I just couldn’t. I promise I’ll try to break my addiction eventually. Perhaps there’s a 12-step Vicks program somewhere.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Find Anne Montgomery’s novels wherever you buy books.



4 thoughts on “Vicks is great stuff, but please read the directions!

  1. sharonledwith says:

    Well, spit! I use Vicks every night in my nose. Helps me breathe. WTH? Guess I’d better find another way to breathe easier. Thanks for the heads up, Anne!


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