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Vapour rub reduced nocturnal symptoms in children with upper respiratory tract infection

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Study design

Design Randomised, placebo-controlled trial.

Allocation Age stratified randomisation.

Blinding Partially double-blinded (investigators were blinded; ‘no treatment’ group was not blinded; the attempt to blind both treatment groups was likely ineffective).

Study question

Setting A paediatric outpatient practice in the USA.

Patients 144 children aged 2–11 years presenting with moderately severe upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) symptoms (cough, congestion, rhinorrhoea) for ≥7 days. Children with asthma, pneumonia, laryngotracheobronchitis, sinusitis, chronic lung disease or seizure disorder were excluded.

Intervention Participants were allocated to one of the following: (1) vapour rub (petrolatum containing camphor, eucalyptus oil and menthol; n=44), (2) petrolatum ointment (used as a placebo; n=47); or (3) no treatment (n=47). Parents of children in the vapour rub and the petrolatum group were ‘blinded’ by applying vapour rub under their own noses before they opened their child's treatment. The treatment was applied to the child's chest by the parent 30 min before bedtime.

Outcomes Parental report of URTI symptoms during the night preceding recruitment and the morning after the intervention on 7-point Likert scales. Items included in the survey were cough frequency, cough severity, severity of congestion, severity of rhinorrhoea, child's ability to sleep and parent's ability to sleep. Adverse effects …

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  • Sources of funding The study was supported by grants from Procter & Gamble (the manufacturer of the vapour rub) and the National Institutes of Health. The first author (IM Paul) has been a paid consultant for Proctor & Gamble.


  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.

  • Competing interests None.