November 7, 2023

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Winter is a season of cozy sweaters, warm beverages and for many, the dreaded cold and flu season. When the chills hit, and the sniffles set in, many people turn to trusted remedies to alleviate their discomfort. One such remedy is using a mentholated topical ointment, or chest rub. This cold and flu remedy has been a staple in households for generations, known for its soothing properties. In this blog post, we'll explore the various uses of this product during the winter season, as well as the potential dangers associated with its misuse. We will also highlight the essential role of certified poison specialists at the Iowa Poison Control Center (IPCC) in ensuring the safety of all individuals.

The Many Uses of Mentholated Topical Ointment
  • Congestion Relief
    One of the most common uses of chest rub is for relieving nasal congestion. The active ingredients, including camphor, eucalyptus oil and menthol, work together to open up airways and provide temporary relief from congestion caused by colds and allergies. Simply apply a thin layer on your chest and throat before bedtime, allowing the aromatic vapors to work their magic overnight.
  • Cough Suppression
    Coughing can be incredibly disruptive during the winter months, affecting both your sleep and daily activities. Mentholated topical ointments can help soothe a persistent cough when applied to the chest. The menthol in the ointment can provide a cooling sensation, which can reduce the urge to cough.
  • Muscle and Joint Pain
    Winter often brings with it cold and damp weather, which can exacerbate joint and muscle pain, especially in individuals with conditions like arthritis. Massaging mentholated ointment onto the affected area can provide a warming sensation that helps relieve discomfort and tension.
  • Headache Relief
    Some people find relief from tension headaches by applying a small amount of ointment on their temples and forehead. The menthol can create a cooling sensation that may reduce headache discomfort.
  • Sinus Congestion
    When sinus congestion strikes, a simple method for relief is inhaling the mentholated vapors from the ointment. Boil a pot of water, add a dollop of ointment and inhale the steam with a towel draped over your head. This can help loosen mucus and alleviate sinus pressure.
  • Aid in Sleep
    A good night's sleep is crucial for maintaining health, especially when dealing with winter illnesses. The calming aroma of mentholated ointment can help promote restful sleep by reducing congestion, coughing and discomfort.
Dangers Associated with Mentholated Topical Ointments

While mentholated ointment is generally safe when used as directed, misuse or excessive application can lead to potential dangers, especially for children.

Some of the risks associated include:

  • Skin Irritation: Applying mentholated ointment to sensitive or damaged skin can cause irritation, redness and a burning sensation. Always perform a patch test before using it on a larger area.
  • Eye Irritation: Avoid contact with the eyes, as menthol can cause irritation and discomfort. If it accidentally comes into contact with the eyes, start rinsing with water immediately. While doing so, contact the IPCC for medical guidance. Our certified specialists can provide advice on the appropriate rinse time, typically for a rinse duration of 15-20 minutes. The IPCC can also help to determine if the individual requires further medical attention. Always be prepared to seek immediate medical attention if necessary.
  • Ingestion: The risk of ingesting mentholated ointment is a significant concern, particularly for young children. Even small amounts can trigger toxic effects, leading to symptoms like nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and potentially more severe repercussions, including seizures. Should ingestion occur, it's crucial that individuals contact the IPCC immediately. Depending on the amount ingested, a visit to the doctor might be necessary. However, many taste exposures in children can be adequately addressed by the IPCC. The specialist on the line will then assess the situation and determine whether a referral to the emergency room or a doctor is required.
  • Breathing Problems: Inhaling the vapors directly from the container can cause breathing difficulties, especially in children. It is not recommended to use mentholated ointment in this way.
  • Allergic Reactions: Some individuals may be sensitive or allergic to the ingredients in mentholated ointments. If you experience skin rashes, itching or other allergic symptoms after use, discontinue and consult a healthcare professional.
The Role of the Iowa Poison Control Center

With the potential dangers associated with mentholated topical ointments, it's crucial to have access to reliable information and guidance, especially during winter when cold and flu symptoms are prevalent. The Iowa Poison Control Center plays a vital role in ensuring the safety of the community by providing immediate assistance and expertise in cases of poisoning or exposure to toxic substances, including mentholated ointments.

The Iowa Poison Control Center is staffed by poison specialists who are available 24/7 to answer questions and offer guidance in cases of accidental ingestion or misuse. They can provide essential information on how to handle exposure, the potential risks and what steps should be taken to ensure the safety and well-being of those affected.

In the event of accidental ingestion or exposure to mentholated ointments, the Iowa Poison Control Center recommends the following steps:

  • Stay Calm: It's essential to remain calm and avoid panicking.
  • Contact the Poison Control Center: Call the Iowa Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 immediately. Poison specialists are available around the clock to provide guidance.
  • Provide Information: When calling, be ready to provide details about the individual's age, weight and the amount of mentholated ointment ingested or applied.
  • Follow Recommendations: Certified poison specialists will provide specific recommendations based on the circumstances. It's essential to follow their instructions carefully.

Mentholated topical ointments can be a valuable asset during the winter season, offering relief from congestion, coughs and discomfort. However, it's important to use this remedy with caution and follow the directions on the label. Misuse, especially in the case of ingestion, can have serious consequences, especially for children. If accidental exposure occurs, the Iowa Poison Control Center and its certified poison specialists are readily available to provide assistance and guidance, ensuring the safety and well-being of those affected. This winter, stay safe and stay informed when using mentholated topical ointments to make the most of its soothing benefits while avoiding potential dangers.

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