My mother thinks Vicks VapoRub can cure just about any illness.

I think if I broke an arm, my mom would tell me to rub some Vicks on it.

She used vast quantities of it in raising three children, and still puts it on every night when she goes to bed.

Because we love and trust our mothers, she has made me a believer.

I’ve had a medical problem over the past year that took me to an allergist, a pulmonologist and an ear, nose and throat specialist. My mother and sister, worried about my health, urged me to try some Vicks. I’ll be darned if it didn’t do some good.

The ear, nose and throat doctor ultimately solved my problem. But the Vicks helped me get there.

In many families, Vicks is one of the strong fragrances of childhood.

It must be popular. According to the Vicks people, VapoRub is “the No. 1 selling branded children’s cough cold product,” appropriate for people 2 and older.

My mother’s gospel has spread.

“I really like Vicks,” my daughter says. “I use it whenever I have a cold.”

Brenna also reports that one of my wife’s sisters sleeps with Vicks every single night.

The label identifies Vicks as a cough suppressant and topical analgesic. But it is so much more.

I’ve been studying Vicks jars lately. The active ingredients are Camphor, Eucalyptus oil and menthol. The inactive ingredients include cedarleaf oil, nutmeg oil, petrolatum, thymol and turpentine oil.

No snake oil whatsoever.

The ingredients produce the “medicated vapors” that are Vicks’ trademark.

According to Vicks, those vapors enter the nose and mouth to help soothe a cough.

“It starts working super quickly for adults,” the company says. “Vicks VapoRub may also be applied to muscles and joints to temporarily relieve minor aches and pains.”

My mother doesn’t believe in overhauling the health care system. In her view, a jar of Vicks is all you need.

In raising three kids, Vicks wasn’t her only weapon. She’s a big believer in heating pads and hot water bottles. Like many mothers in 1960s, she also knew how to apply Mercurochrome.

My mother, who took the job of keeping kids healthy very seriously, was always on the lookout for signs of chicken pox.

Vicks seems to bring us all together. The Wikipedia entry for Vicks VapoRub says, “The product is a cultural touchstone among Hispanic and Latino Americans.”

Vicks was first sold in 1905. In most German-speaking countries, it is called Wick VapoRub.

Like other ancient remedies, Vicks has many other uses.

According to a list on the Internet, Vicks can be used as mosquito repellent, (If it doesn’t actually repel them, it’ll probably help with their bronchial irritation.)

My wife says Vicks might not repel mosquitoes, “but it certainly does other humans.”

Vicks can also be used as a moisturizer (who needs a facial treatment?) and for treating cracked heels.

It can even help your tennis game. Vicks helps tennis elbow, as well as athlete’s foot. You can use to it to remove toenail or fingernail fungus, reduce sinus headaches, relieve ear aches and reduce the visibility of stretch marks,

It even has an effect on animals. Vicks prevents pets from making a mess inside your house. Some horse trainers put the ointment under a horse’s nostrils to keep the animal concentrating on the race and not the intoxicating aroma of mares.

Vicks does have some doubters.

The Mayo Clinic says Vicks VapoRub doesn’t relieve nasal congestion. “But the strong menthol odor of VapoRub may trick your brain, so you feel like you’re breathing through an unclogged nose,” says Dr. Jay L. Hoecker, writing on the Mayo Clinic website. “By contrast, decongestant tablets and nasal sprays sold over-the-counter may narrow blood vessels in your nose’s lining, leading to reduced swelling in your nasal passages.”

I don’t see much of a quandary. If I have to choose between some guy at the Mayo Clinic and my mother, there’s no doubt whose medical advice I’m going to follow.

Jeff Bahr is a reporter for The Independent. He may be reached at (308) 381-9408.

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