Is it the camphor that helps?

Dear Dr Gott: A columnist in my local paper claimed that you had endorsed Vicks VapoRub for treatment of nail fungus. She thought that the thymol found in the petroleum jelly was the answer. Several months ago, I tried Vicks on my minor case of nail fungus, with some success noted. My last experience with the smell of the vapours from this concoction was more than 30 years ago, when my children were young.

I know the smell comes mostly from the eucalyptus oil; however, it brought back another, even older memory of when I was a child and my mother would put Campho-Phenique on a cold sore.

Sure enough, camphor is one of the active ingredients in Vicks VapoRub. Much to my surprise, Campho-Phenique is still available at my drugstore in its pure form.

Applied with a cotton swab, the camphor oil penetrated easily under and around the nail.

Twice a day, and in very short order, my nail was clear.

I would recommend using the active ingredient, camphor, full strength rather than dealing with the petroleum jelly. Is this safe?

Reply: Vicks, as well as store and other generic forms of mentholated chest rubs, has been used successfully by many of my readers for a variety of conditions, including nail fungus, plaque psoriasis, seborrheic keratoses, ringworm, neuropathy pain and more.

Several have written asking why this works, and to be honest, I don't know; I'm not really concerned with the why, just that it is inexpensive, safe and effective.

Campho-Phenique is a common over-the-counter product. It is primarily used to treat cold sores but may also be helpful for insect bites.

I am not sure what you mean by “Campho-Phenique is still available at my drugstore in its pure form”. Campho-Phenique is a prepared product.

The active ingredients are camphor and phenol. Inactive ingredients include colloidal silicon dioxide, eucalyptus, glycerin and light mineral oil.

Pure camphor or camphor oil should not be applied directly to skin. Campho-Phenique itself contains less than 11 percent camphor and even at that level can be irritating to the skin of sensitive individuals.

I can neither discourage nor encourage the use of the Campho-Phenique (or any generic or store brand of this product) as an alternative to a mentholated chest rub simply because I don't know enough about it.

If any of my readers have tried it for nail fungus or would like to, I ask that you let me know your results and any pros and cons you experience.

I will print an update when I have received sufficient reader feedback.

Dear Dr Gott: My feet and ankles look awful. They are red, purple and black.

I am otherwise OK. I have asked several doctors, but never get an answer. I would go to a specialist if I knew who to see. I am a 75-year-old female.

Reply: Given your brief note, I cannot offer you any specific advice. Are you on any prescription or over-the-counter medications, supplements or herbs? Do you have a clotting disorder? When did the discoloration start? Does anything make it better or worse?

I suggest that you make an appointment with your primary-care physician to discuss the issue and undergo some blood work and testing. If, after this, your physician is still unable to help, have him or her suggest what type of specialist you should consult.

Dr Peter H Gott is a retired physician and the author of several books, including ‘Live Longer, Live Better', ‘Dr Gott's No Flour, No Sugar Diet' and ‘Dr Gott's No Flour, No Sugar Cookbook', which are available at most bookstores or online. His website is Contact him c/o United Media, 200 Madison Avenue, fourth floor, New York, New York 10016.

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