What happens if you ingest Vicks?

Vicks VapoRub is a topical ointment that is widely used for treating coughs, colds, and congestion. It contains several active ingredients including camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol that provide relief from cough and congestion when applied to the throat and chest. While Vicks VapoRub is safe to use externally as directed, ingesting it can be harmful and should be avoided.

What are the ingredients in Vicks VapoRub?

The active ingredients in Vicks VapoRub include:

  • Camphor – 4.8%
  • Eucalyptus oil – 2.6%
  • Menthol – 2.6%
  • Turpentine oil – 5.0%
  • Cedarleaf oil – 0.3%
  • Nutmeg oil – 0.6%
  • Thymol – 0.1%

These ingredients provide several effects when Vicks is applied topically as directed. The camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus oils help relieve nasal and chest congestion by acting as counterirritants. They stimulate cold receptors in the skin which provide a cooling sensation and distract from stuffy airways. These ingredients also have aromatic properties that help open airways. Turpentine oil helps thin mucus secretions in the lungs and airways while the cedarleaf and nutmeg oils provide antibacterial effects.

Is Vicks VapoRub toxic if ingested?

While Vicks VapoRub is generally safe when used as directed topically on the throat and chest, it can be toxic if ingested. Several ingredients in Vicks could potentially cause poisoning if large amounts are swallowed including camphor, eucalyptus oil, menthol, and turpentine oil.

Camphor is highly toxic and ingesting as little as 500 mg may be fatal. It works as a stimulant and irritant in the body. Signs of camphor poisoning include burning of the mouth, throat, and stomach, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, confusion, headache, muscle twitches, seizures, and coma. Eucalyptus oil, menthol, and turpentine oil can also irritate the mouth, throat, and stomach when ingested. They may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, drowsiness, and dizziness.

What happens if a small amount of Vicks is ingested?

If only a small amount of Vicks VapoRub is accidentally ingested, it may cause minor irritation in the mouth and throat. Symptoms could include:

  • A burning sensation in the mouth
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive salivation
  • Numbness or tingling of the tongue

These symptoms are generally temporary and resolve on their own. Rinsing the mouth out with water or drinking milk can help dilute the Vicks and relieve any irritation. There is generally no long lasting harm if only a tiny, inadvertent amount is swallowed.

What are the effects of ingesting a large amount of Vicks VapoRub?

Ingesting a large quantity of Vicks VapoRub, such as accidentally eating a whole jar, could result in potentially serious effects including:

  • Burning and ulceration of the esophagus and gastrointestinal tract
  • Nausea and repeated vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
  • High blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Irregular heart rhythms
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Respiratory depression
  • Kidney failure
  • Coma
  • Death (in cases of extreme camphor poisoning)

These effects are due to the high concentration of camphor, as well as irritation from the menthol, eucalyptus oil, and turpentine oil.

What should you do if Vicks is ingested?

If you suspect someone has ingested a significant amount of Vicks VapoRub, seek medical assistance right away by calling 911 or poison control at 1-800-222-1222. Do not wait for symptoms to appear.

It is important not to induce vomiting unless instructed by poison control, as this increases the risk of getting the product into the lungs. Poison control or emergency medical personnel may administer certain medications or procedures to help remove the toxins from the body.

Call 911 immediately if the person is unconscious, having seizures, or has severely low blood pressure or respiratory depression after ingesting Vicks.

Who is most at risk from ingesting Vicks VapoRub?

Certain groups are at higher risk for toxicity if they ingest Vicks VapoRub. These include:

  • Infants and young children
  • Elderly individuals
  • Pregnant women
  • People with chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease

Infants and young children are especially susceptible to camphor poisoning from ingesting Vicks. They are smaller and it takes a much lower amount of camphor to reach toxic levels in their system. Caregivers should take extra precautions to store Vicks safely out of children’s reach.

How is Vicks poisoning treated?

Treatment depends on the amount ingested and how severe the symptoms are. Mild symptoms can often be treated with supportive care at home but medical monitoring is still advised. This may include:

  • Rinsing out the mouth
  • Drinking milk or water to help dilute the toxins
  • Medications to control nausea and vomiting
  • IV fluids to prevent dehydration
  • Electrolyte replacement

More severe poisoning requires emergency hospital treatment which may involve:

  • Endotracheal intubation for respiratory support
  • Administration of activated charcoal to absorb toxins
  • Gastric lavage to flush out the stomach
  • Anti-seizure medications
  • Medications to treat arrhythmias
  • Hemodialysis for kidney failure

With aggressive supportive treatment, the majority of people recover well from Vicks poisoning as long as they receive medical care promptly.

Can toxic effects occur from inhaling Vicks?

Inhaling Vicks VapoRub, such as directly sniffing from an open jar, could potentially lead to adverse effects due to the high concentration of camphor and other oils. Symptoms may include:

  • Coughing or choking sensations
  • Throat irritation
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion

In severe cases, inhaling large amounts of camphor may cause seizure, coma, or even death. Children have been known to die fromcamphor poisoning through excessive inhalation.

Using Vicks VapoRub as directed in a diffuser or vaporizer is generally safe however. The small amounts released into bedroom air to clear congestion contain low concentrations of camphor and other active ingredients that are unlikely to cause systemic toxicity when inhaled.

Is it dangerous to apply Vicks inside the nose or mouth?

Applying Vicks VapoRub inside the nostrils or mouth is not recommended as this can increase absorption and toxicity. The sensitive mucous membranes allow the camphor and aromatic oils to be more readily absorbed. This increases the risk of poisoning effects.

In severe cases, applying Vicks inside the nose has been linked to inflammation, chemical burns, and damage to the nasal passages. Placing Vicks in the mouth could lead to ingestion and poisoning. For these reasons, it should only be used externally on the throat and chest as directed.

Can you overdose on Vicks through the skin?

It is very unlikely that using Vicks externally could result in overdose or poisoning through skin absorption alone. Only a small percentage of the active ingredients are absorbed through the skin, not enough to cause toxic systemic levels in regular use.

However, if someone applies extremely large amounts all over the body and covers up with layers of clothing or blankets, some symptoms could potentially occur. Signs could include rash, headache, dizziness, confusion, nausea, or elevated heart rate. Discontinue use and wash off the skin if any irritation occurs.

Is it dangerous to use Vicks while pregnant?

Using Vicks VapoRub occasionally as directed during pregnancy is generally considered safe. However, excessive use should be avoided. The camphor may be absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream which can potentially increase risks such as:

  • Preterm labor
  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirth

High doses of salicylates like methyl salicylate in Vicks can also have negative effects in pregnancy. Discuss any use of Vicks while pregnant with your doctor.

Can using Vicks affect fertility or sex drive?

There is no evidence that normal external use of Vicks VapoRub affects fertility or libido. The levels absorbed through the skin are very low and unlikely to impact hormone levels or reproductive health.

However, ingesting or inhaling large amounts of camphor could potentially affect the hormones and fertility due to its effects on the endocrine system. Very high camphor exposure has been linked with delayed puberty and changes in testosterone in animal studies.

Does Vicks have any drug interactions?

Significant drug interactions are mainly a concern if Vicks VapoRub is ingested rather than applied topically as directed. The camphor may interact with certain prescription medications including:

  • Antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  • Sedatives like diazepam (Valium)
  • Opioid pain relievers
  • Medications changed by the liver

Camphor may increase drowsiness and sedation when combined with antihistamines, opioids, or sedative drugs. Those taking prescription medications should ask their doctor before ingesting any products containing camphor like Vicks VapoRub.

Can you be allergic to Vicks VapoRub?

Allergic reactions are possible when using Vicks, especially in people with sensitivities to certain ingredients. Signs of allergic reaction can include:

  • Redness, rash, itching of the skin
  • Swelling of the face, lips, tongue
  • Wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • Runny nose and eyes
  • Chest tightness

The menthol and eucalyptus oil in Vicks are common allergens. Those with known sensitivities to these ingredients should avoid using Vicks VapoRub.

Is it safe to use Vicks on infants and children?

Vicks VapoRub should never be used on infants under 2 years old. Young children are at higher risk of negative effects from the camphor and menthol, especially if accidentally ingested.

For children 2 to 11 years old, Vicks should only be used externally for short periods and as directed. Caregivers should apply it sparingly, avoiding the nose and mouth, and watch children closely to prevent ingestion or overuse.


Vicks VapoRub can be toxic if misused, especially through ingestion or excessive inhalation. However, it is generally safe when applied externally to the throat and chest for temporary relief of cough and congestion as directed for adults and children over 2 years old. Using small amounts for short durations minimizes any risks. Still, ingesting even tiny amounts should be treated seriously with rapid call to poison control. Keep Vicks out of reach of babies and young children and avoid use in pregnancy unless approved by a doctor. Seeking prompt medical care for any suspected poisoning can prevent lasting effects. When used carefully per instructions, Vicks VapoRub can safely provide congestion relief.

1 thought on “What happens if you ingest Vicks?”

Leave a Comment