Camphor is a chemical used in a variety of medicines and household products around the world. It is made from the oil of certain trees and is commonly used in creams for its cooling sensation and to provide relief for coughs, itching, cold sores, or sore muscles. Examples of creams with camphor include Vick’s VapoRub and Tiger Balm. It can also be found in products such as essential oils, mothballs, and other pest control products.
Let’s take a closer look on how to safely use and store camphor products in the home.
Always follow the directions on the label when using products with camphor. Camphor containing creams should not be applied to the eyes, nose, or mouth, especially in young children. Ask your doctor before using these products with babies or young children.
When applying creams to the skin, do not cover with bandages or excess clothing. If the cream is covered, it can cause the skin to absorb more of the product which may cause unwanted effects. If the product causes skin irritation or burning, remove the product and rinse the area well with water.
While products in the United States contain a limited amount of camphor to prevent poisonings, camphor containing products from other countries have much higher concentrations and should be used with caution.
Camphor products should always be kept in their original labeled container because it has the appropriate warning labels and dosage amounts. Child-resistant containers will not prevent all children from opening the product. Store these products up, away, and out of sight. Do not keep these products on tables or countertops, even if they are being used frequently.
Health Effects from Camphor Exposure
While it is not clear how camphor works in the body, it can have some serious effects if too much is used. Skin irritation and a burning feeling are normal when using it on the skin. If swallowed, camphor products are known to have the following health effects:
- Mouth irritation
- Stomach pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Lower blood pressure
- Difficulty breathing
Camphor products often have a strong smell that encourages children and older adults to eat it. A strong smell of camphor product on the breath is a sign that it may have been swallowed.
If you or someone you know has swallowed a product containing camphor, call your local poison center at 1-800-222-1222. If the person is not breathing, is unconscious, or having seizures, call 911 right away. Do not make the person vomit by using fingers or giving a home remedy.
Jacob Luber, RN
MPC RN to BSN Practicum Student
University of Maryland School of Nursing