Can Putting Vicks VapoRub on Your Feet Cure a Cough?

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There’s no actual scientific evidence to support it, but plenty of people still swear by Vicks VapoRub as an unconventional cure for a cough

It’s that time of year again—sniffles and coughs are going around, and many of us who have caught whichever bug is spreading like wildfire at daycare this year would just like some relief from those annoying cold symptoms, like a lingering cough. If you’re ready to try anything to get a break from coughing, here’s an unconventional cure that might be worth a shot: Putting Vicks VapoRub on the soles of your feet, then covering it with a clean pair of socks.

It’s important to note that there’s no actual scientific evidence backing this up. But tons of people have been claiming for years that this is how they treat a cough, and that they’ve seen great success. Some people even claim that this hack can stop a persistent cough in minutes.


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Vicks has menthol as its active ingredient, which actually can help with symptoms like coughing and congestion.

According to Rutgers University pediatrician Satya D. Narisety, M.D., menthol “doesn’t actually open up airways or break up mucous, but…trick[s] your brain into thinking your airways are opening up and you’re not so congested.”

That explains why using Vicks as intended—on your neck or under your nose—might help alleviate some cold symptoms. But on your feet? There’s no real proof, but some doctors have theories about why it might help.

Joe Graedon, a pharmacologist from the University of Michigan, points to research done by Nobel prize-winning neuroscientist Rod MacKinnon, M.D., and Bruce Bean, Ph.D., of Harvard for a clue. Their research showed how overstimulated nerves can help ease muscle cramps. Specifically, they looked at how overstimulating nerves in the mouth, throat, and stomach by drinking a spicy tea “affected the spinal column and overwhelmed the nerves that were causing muscle cramps.” Feet have a lot of nerve endings, so Graedon’s theory is that slathering them with Vicks might stimulate the nerves in a way that relaxes muscles in the chest and throat and helps ease a cough.

“The [brain’s] cough center is right next to the spinal cord. If the sensory nerves in the soles of the feet stimulate the spinal cord, they might be able to interrupt the cough cycle,” he said.

Even though science doesn’t back this one up, plenty of moms reach for the Vicks and a pair of socks—and swear by it.

We are not health professionals. The content herein is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always check with your child’s doctor for the best course of treatment for their ailment.

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