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People’s Pharmacy: 25 years of Vicks VapoRub against toenail fungus

UPDATED: Wed., April 20, 2022

Vicks VapoRub has been a longtime treatment for toenail fungus.  (Ajay Suresh)
Vicks VapoRub has been a longtime treatment for toenail fungus. (Ajay Suresh)
By Joe Graedon, M.S.,</p><p>and Teresa Graedon, Ph.D. King Features Syndicate

Q. For some time, I was bothered with toenail fungus and complained about it to my doctor. He prescribed medication to be taken daily and noted that the cure would take months.

I faithfully took the drug for four months and never saw any improvement. Then I read in your column that Vicks VapoRub might be helpful. I started applying Vicks to the sides and under the toenail each morning upon rising and evening upon retiring.

Within a week, the fungus was retreating. Before too long, it had cleared up, and my toenail has now remained fungus-free for more than a year. I continue to apply Vicks once a month, needed or not, to try to prevent a recurrence.

A. In the summer of 1997, we received the following message: “I am a professional footcare nurse who sees about 200 clients per month. A large percentage have fungus in their nails. Many have used expensive prescription medications, often for long periods, without relief.

“Since learning about the vinegar remedy a few years ago, I have shared the information and asked my clients to make sure there were no medical contraindications before using it. Daily vinegar footbaths are essential for this remedy to work effectively.

“It takes months for the new nail to grow out completely. During this time, I gradually trim away the old diseased nail. When my clients see the new healthy nail coming into view, they realize this remedy works.

“Another remedy under study is the use of Vicks VapoRub on diseased nails. This method may be easier for some people to follow. It will be interesting to see the results of the research.”

It took a long time for a study to be published. Nurses caring for people with AIDS frequently note hard-to-treat nail fungus. A small study of 20 patients reported 83% improvement after six months of applying Vicks daily (Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, January-February 2016).

They concluded: “Vicks VapoRub was shown to be an effective and safe treatment of onychomycosis (nail fungus) …”

Q. When I was 18 years old, I had severe acne. The dermatologist prescribed a type of vitamin A prescription.

It got rid of my acne within a few months. I then stopped taking the pills due to possible toxicity. My cousin had a similar experience. It felt like a miracle, as the acne never returned.

Now my grandson is 18. He has very bad acne, and the treatment is not yielding good results. How can we find a dermatologist who prescribes the pills we took so he doesn’t throw his money away on unsuccessful treatments?

A. We suspect that the drug you are describing is isotretinoin. It was originally prescribed by the brand name Accutane. Although that brand is no longer available, dermatologists can still prescribe isotretinoin.

Because isotretinoin can cause birth defects if taken during pregnancy, it must be dispensed by a certified specialty pharmacy with precautions in place to prevent pregnant people from taking it. Another risk is severe depression.

Any dermatologist who treats severe acne should be familiar with isotretinoin. There are other treatments that may also be helpful.

You can learn about them in our eGuide to Acne Solutions. You will find this online resource under the Health eGuides tab at peoplespharmacy.com. We provide information about diet and home remedies as well as several prescription treatments.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL, 32803, or email them via their website peoplespharmacy.com. They are the authors of “Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.”

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