A Consultant Paediatrician at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idiaraba, Lagos, Dr. Gbemisola Boyede has cautioned against applying mentholatum on babies, noting that it could cause serious health complications.
According to the paediatrician, applying mentolatum on the nose and mouth of babies to treat cough is particularly dangerous because it could cause serious life-threatening complications.
The paediatrician warned that some of the ingredients in mentholatum could be poisonous when mistakenly ingested by babies, noting that they could cause seizures and respiratory depression that may even result in fatality.
Dr. Boyede who is the founder of Ask The Paediatricians Foundation spoke in an exclusive interview with PUNCH HealthWise.
The child health specialist said chest rubs do not have any proven benefit and do not make it easier to breathe.
According to her, camphor, menthol, or eucalyptus oil contained in a mentholatum makes the nasal passages more sensitive to cold air, hence making it seem as though the airways are clearing.
She, however, warned that if these ingredients are accidentally swallowed or ingested, they can make a child very sick.
She said, “We do not recommend the use of mentholatum in babies and this is because of the content of the product.
“I went to their website and looked at the ingredients that made up the products: Menthol BP 1.35% w/w, Camphor BP 9.00% w/w, Methyl Salicylate BP 0.33% w/w, Eucalyptus Oil, Pumilio Pine Oil, Titanium Dioxide, Yellow Soft Paraffin.
“The eucalyptus oil and camphor in mentholatum are potentially poisonous and could lead to fatal outcomes, especially if swallowed.
“This is why they should not be applied to the nose and mouth of babies, where the risk of being swallowed is high.”
“Camphor may cause significant and potentially life-threatening adverse effects in children. Most reported cases are with accidental oral ingestions; however, toxicity has also been reported with topical application in an infant.
“Mild toxicity may cause gastrointestinal effects such as nausea, vomiting, or burning sensation.
“However, severe effects such as restlessness, delirium, seizures, and fatal respiratory depression possibly leading to death can occur with doses as low as 500 mg,” the paediatrician warned.
According to the American Academy of Paediatrics, camphor should be avoided in paediatric patients because of its lack of efficacy and the well-documented toxicity that may occur with its use.
The AAA in a publication published online titled ‘Camphor: Pediatric drug Information’ warned that “camphor may cause significant and potentially life-threatening adverse effects in children”.
Speaking further with our correspondent, Dr. Boyede said, “Salicylate which is the active ingredient in aspirin should also be avoided in children who have fever as it can lead to a severe reaction called Reye syndrome, a severe liver failure that may be fatal.”
The paediatrician said that parents should not be unduly worried when their children come down with colds and coughs, noting that they are infections that do not necessarily require medications.
She stressed that babies that are enjoying exclusive breastfeeding, would often be well hydrated and be able to fight off the infections.
She also urged parents, especially mothers, to rather use the normal saline drops for their babies suffering colds, noting that it would help to soften the mucus and give room for easy flow.
“What we have always advised on ‘Ask The Paediatricians’ is that most colds and coughs are viral infections that are self-limiting and do not require any medications.
“Give fluids, (exclusive breastfeeding in babies less than six months) to keep the child hydrated. Drinking warm fluids like tea, and soups may have a soothing effect on the respiratory mucosa, increase the flow of nasal mucus, and loosen respiratory secretions, making them easier to remove.
“If the nostrils are blocked with mucus, normal saline drops can be applied to soften the mucus and allow it to flow out readily. Normal saline drops are available in the pharmacy stores over the counter.
“However, while we have always discouraged the use of over-the-counter cold treatment products. It is important to state that some contain variable items some of which are poisonous and most from research have no proven benefits,” the child health expert said.
“A child with presumed colds and cough who has a high fever, fast or difficulty with breathing or any unusual breathing pattern must be taken to the hospital for proper evaluation and management as the child may have pneumonia which is one of the killer diseases of children below the age of five years,” Boyede said.
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