Queensland Health is warning parents common cough and cold treatments like rubs and inhalants do not work and can make children sick if they swallow them.

Hugh Miller, director of Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital pharmacy department, where the Queensland Poisons Information Centre is based, told Perth Now during winter and the flu season, the centre received an increased numbers of calls related to chest rubs and vaporiser fluids.

“In cooler weather, some parents use vaporisers, thinking they help with colds and to clear airways,” he said.

“But chest rubs and vaporiser fluids have no proven benefits and can pose a poisoning risk.

“Children sometimes get hold of these products and have a lick or ingest some of the fluid, which may be poisonous if ingested.”

The Queensland Health website says the rubs and inhalants just make people feel like they are working because camphor, menthol or eucalyptus oil make your nasal passages more sensitive to cold air.

“The Queensland Poisons Information Centre does not encourage the use of chest rubs, vaporiser or inhalant fluids to treat coughs and colds, or for any other purpose.

Chest rubs and vaporiser fluids do not have any proven benefit. They can make you feel as though your airways are clearing but this is because camphor, menthol or eucalyptus oil make your nasal passages more sensitive to cold air. Chest rubs and vaporiser fluids do not have a decongestant effect.

The camphor and eucalyptus oil in chest rubs and vaporiser fluids are poisonous and can make children very sick if they swallow them. Each year Poisons Information Centres send many children to hospital after they have swallowed chest rub or vaporiser fluid.

If you think your child has swallowed a chest rub or vaporiser fluid contact the Poisons Information Centre immediately.”

Dangers of vaporiser use

Mr Miller said vaporisers should be out of children’s reach when in use.

Last month researchers called on the public watch dog to ensure parents are reminded of the dangers using a Vaporiser especially as the cooler weather approaches.

A large number of children, mainly toddlers, present to the children’s hospital with burns from a steam vaporiser with up to 80% presenting with burns to their hands. Especially boys. 50% needed surgery.

FGB Natural Products the distributors of Euky Bear and Vicks Warm Steam Vaporisers, two of the top-selling vaporiser brands in Australia issued a statement saying – “Ultimately it is up to the parents to decide based on their circumstances and the age of their children, but we urge parents, as with any household device like kettles or stoves, to always supervise children around vaporisers.”

The dreaded green snot monster

It has also been reported this week that green snot does NOT mean we need to rush off to the doctor for antibiotics.

Research has found that doctors are more likely to prescribe antibiotics to patients with green or yellow nasal discharge.

But the same study showed they were often doing so unnecessarily.

Dr Michael Tam, from the UNSW School of Public Health and Community Medicine, said colourful snot was not a good reason to go rushing to the family doctor.

“The presence of green snot … does not indicate that you need antibiotics,” Dr Tam said. “Green nasal discharge is most commonly due to a viral infection of the nasal mucosa — basically, the common cold.”

Antibiotics will not help treat a viral illness. So if your snot turns green as the result of a common cold (which is caused by a virus) there’s no point taking them, Dr Tam told ABC News.

He said green or yellow nasal discharge could be caused by a bacterial infection, but even then, unless the infection is severe, you are better off without antibiotics.

Using antibiotics when you don’t need them can contribute to antibiotic resistance in the microorganisms in your own body and within the broader community.

Treating a child’s cold/flu

According to Kids Health the best way to treat a child’s cold/flu is to…

  • Offer plenty of fluids
  • Encourage lots of rest
  • Give paracetamol and ibuprofen as required for any aches and pains
  • Dress children appropriately so you can add and remove layers during bouts of chills or fever.

Always seek medical advice if concerned.

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  • Well of course. These things are not designed to be injested. I used vicks just like my mum used it on us. I also used this stuff called Karvol that came in a gel vial and you would break the top off and then I would put it on their pj collers. They all tell me that they loved the smell.


  • Thank you for the informative article.


  • Wow – I’ve always used rubs…….will have to make sure we’re very careful with it.


  • Well, this would fly in the face of everything I’ve ever known, or thought I knew. I don’t know how I’d get through the night without Vicks on my chest and up my nose when I cannot breathe. And I’ve often used the vaporiser for my son to help with his asthma, as the request of medical professionals. So, what to believe ?! I understand the poison factor, but I simply kept these things out of the reach of my son when he was younger. You don’t need a medical degree to know that.


  • Personally I am taking this with a grain of salt ..
    good old vicks and a vaporiser has always been used in our home and will continue to be.

    And as for the dangers ..these items are no different to many others ..care and supervision is always required.


  • We still use Vicks – good to know it doesn’t do much as I’m not a fan of the smell! I do use some essential oils in the kid’s rooms though.


  • Nothing better than a long drink, mug or glass, of honey and lemon in just above warm water. So soothing for the throat and good for all colds and sniffles. Some of the old remedies are the best.


  • I don’t use a chest rub but I do use a vapouriser. Good to know it’s not recommended.


  • WQe sure don’t go to the Gp for a cold or flu. My youngest daughter has had a Bronchiolitis several times and the Gp prescribed medication but also advised Eucalyptus Vaporub on her feet and chest. Some different opinions out there, even under professionals.


  • This is pretty much what we do – though after a case f pneumonia, we do nip off to the doctor to check it’s just a cold.


  • My daughter was born with some ‘extras’ which result her being extremely susceptible to chest infections & indeed 90% of the time a cold ends up as one of these. To help we’ve found rubs for kids on the feet with a pair of socks does help her breathing more than when used on the chest so I no longer use it on the chest – just her feet & occasionally her back. I also use a humidifier but it is well out of my daughters reach. Unfortunately the raised mattress has never worked as she used to roll to the bottom when in a cot and now just takes herself out of the bed and onto the floor if I try it so we had to come up with other ways to ‘prop’ her up to help her breathing – an overlarge bean bag has worked wonders for her as she can get herself into a more comfortable position when she needs it…


  • I definitely notice a difference when using vaporizer but it is always out of my daughter’s reach


  • Wow the only real options I have for my 5 1/2 month old is rubs, saline spray and Panadol so now I think I will give the rub a miss.


  • I’ve used chest rubs in the past. I don’t think I will anymore.


  • Time, rest and plenty of fluids is all I usually use to treat colds (as well as dosing up on vitamin c)


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