As you can probably tell from looking at my reviews, I'm a bit of a travel addict. Nothing kills a holiday faster than taking ill on the plane on the way out. After my asthma inhaler, my top "must have" medicine to take on holiday is a menthol inhaler to keep the aerosinusitis and sinus barotrauma at bay.
As it happens, I usually end up with a Vicks inhaler, though this is simply because Vicks is one of the most widespread, being available in most pharmacies. That said, I have never noticed any significant difference between this brand and any other - I find that menthol is menthol and they all work in much the same way.
It is available from Boots at the moment for £2.45, with similar prices in other pharmacies and bigger supermarkets.
What is it?
It is a decongestant, meaning it clears stuffy noses and sinuses. It is used to treat congestion, allergies, sinusitis.
The stick says that the ingredients are 125mg menthol, 50mg camphor, 10mg Siberian pine needle oil and methyl salicylate. So, for those of you who like their remedies natural, this is a good one for you.
What dosage can you have?
This particular brand of menthol stick says you can use as often as you like (this struck me as a little bit odd, because other brands often recommend only having them a certain number of times a day, but perhaps they have other active ingredients).
How do you take it?
It comes in a little cylindrical tube about 2.5 inches long and half an inch in diameter. You take the lid off, put the stick up a nostril, pinch the other nostril closed and inhale. The act of breathing in causes a release of menthol fumes. There is no aerosol involved, so you don't have to spray.
What if I can't breathe through my nose at all?
Yeah, that happens. Annoying, isn't it? This type of treatment isn't much use if you can't breathe at all. I find using a menthol chest rub or a tablet decongestant instead helps, then I can switch over to a menthol stick when I can breathe again.
How long does a dose last for?
I find that although it works very quickly, it also wears off much faster than tablet based decongestants - on bad days, I need a sniff every half an hour to an hour!
How long does it last?
I find that losing them is actually the main reason I need new ones - I've found that menthol sticks keep well and last for years. It's usually quite easy to see if they have worn out, because they don't smell any more.
The stick is small and very light, making it easy to have one in every bag so that I have it to hand if I need it.
How well does it work?
I find that it helps to clear the nose and relieves rhinitis quite well, but doesn't really address sinusitis at all, though at least it stops you getting some of the nastier sinus complications that happen when you fly (ruptured sinus membranes, which is unbelievably painful).
Who can have it?
The inhaler does not state if it is suitable for pregnant women. It does say that it is suitable for adults and children over the age of 6.
Is it safe for asthmatics?
Talk to your doctor/nurse if concerned. I personally find that it does not trigger my asthma (even though I have salicylate-sensitive asthma). But this is one of those things that depend on the individual - it contains salicylates so it may be problematic for extremely sensitive people. My GP told me that inhaling menthol vapours can be a bit kill or cure (it's always a bit alarming when they go "Try it and see, it might be helpful or it might set it off, we can't tell").
One other issue that I have notices is that it can actually make me sneeze, although almost every inhaler and perfume does this to me, so I imagine that most people would be fine!
This inhaler is much better than most decongestants in terms of only having minimal side effects. I'm usually kept up all night by most decongestants, but with menthol, I don't notice much in the way of a stimulant effect (though that could well be because I have "immunised" myself by having far too much coffee!) According to a medic friend of mine, because of the way that decongestants work, they can all side effects like having too much coffee - e.g. palpitations, anxiety, a racing pulse, insomnia etc. They suggested that I try menthol as being least likely to cause it because it acts locally not systemically (i.e. it only affects the local area whereas a tablet would affect all your body).I often find that it can feel a little bit uncomfortable after inhaling - it gives a burning, aching sensation like breathing in on a very cold day.
The other main problem from having decongestants is that they cause rebound congestion, meaning that after they wear off, then your congestion comes back much worse than before. So I make sure that I only have them when I really need them - usually in the run up to a plane trip or in the first few days of having a cold.
It recommends storing it below 25 degrees C.
I think menthol sticks are great for their targeted purpose, but they have a few downsides that mean I usually cope with congestion rather than bothering. I recommend these very strongly for travel purposes, but I don't think that they're the kind of thing I want to take all winter or all hayfever season. The Vicks inhaler is as good as any other that I have tried on the market.