Asthma causes inflammation and swelling in the airways, and this makes breathing difficult. Some people suggest using essential oils to relieve symptoms. But is this a good idea?
Most types of asthma do not result in constant breathing difficulty, but exposure to triggers, such as exercise or an allergen, can result in an attack.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 8.3 percent of people in the United States have asthma, meaning that it affects approximately 6.1 million children and 20.4 million people aged 18 years and over.
There is no cure for asthma, but prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) treatment can help people lead normal lives.
Some people prefer more natural treatment options, such as essential oils. These oils may help relieve symptoms, but they should not replace conventional medical treatments and they can pose new risks.
This article will look at the use of essential oils to treat asthma and some of the possible risks. It will also cover other treatment options for this condition.
Some studies have suggested that substances in some essential oils may offer health benefits for people with asthma. These essential oils include the following:
Peppermint: A substance called methanol is present in peppermint. In a 2014 laboratory study in animals, scientists found that methanol could relax and protect the airways. As a result, it may help people with asthma to breathe more easily.
Lavender: People use this essential oil for a variety of purposes. A mouse study published in 2014 showed that lavender essential oil has natural anti-inflammatory characteristics. It may help people with bronchial asthma by reducing the inflammation of the airways.
Eucalyptus: Research suggests that eucalyptus oil may have anti-inflammatory properties.
Tea tree oil: In a small study published in the British Journal of Dermatology, findings showed that tea tree oil could reduce skin inflammation that occurs in response to histamine.
Histamine is a chemical that the body produces in an allergic reaction. Allergens trigger asthma in many people, and tea tree oil might help reduce the inflammation that occurs as a result.
However, the study involved only 27 people, and there is currently no further evidence to support its findings.
Roman chamomile: Chamomile is another essential oil that studies have shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Research has also found that chamomile can help relax the bronchi, which are the airways linking the windpipe to the lungs. As a result, it may also relieve coughing.
Pistacia integerrima: Also known as karkatshringi, people in India use this plant to treat asthma, bronchitis, and other conditions.
In a study published in 2014, scientists used laboratory tests to demonstrate that the essential oil from Pistacia integerrima may help treat bronchial asthma. It may be beneficial due to its antihistaminic activity.
People should ask a doctor about complementary therapies for asthma, including essential oils, before they try using any of them. Oils may not be safe for everyone to use.
There are different ways of using essential oils for asthma.
The University of Minnesota recommend the following techniques:
Devices are available that allow the oil to diffuse into the air. Place some of the essential oil in the device and add water if the directions advise this.
Some devices use heat to evaporate the oil and aid the diffusion. Any devices that use a candle for this may not be suitable for a person with asthma as candles can produce smoke.
Dry evaporation is another option. Add some drops of oil to a cotton ball or tissue and allow it to release into the air.
A steam bath is another way of inhaling essential oil. Fill a bowl with hot water, sprinkle a few drops of the oil into the water, and allow the steam to rise. Lean over the bowl and breathe deeply. Using certain oils in this way can provide relief from the symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection.
It is essential to:
- keep the eyes closed or use swimming goggles to prevent irritation
- take care to avoid burns from the hot water
- keep children away from the hot water and not allow them to use a steam bath with essential oil as it may harm their eyes
Spraying can also allow people to inhale the oil. Fill a spray bottle with water and a few drops of essential oil. Shake the bottle well and then spray the solution into the air in the room.
The body can absorb essential oils through the skin. It is vital to research the oil properly before trying topical application as some oils may cause skin irritation.
Apply to the skin: You can put some drops of diluted oil onto a compress and apply the compress to the skin.
Never apply pure oil to the skin, as this can lead to a reaction.
Dilute the essential oil using water or a carrier oil, such as olive or nut oil. The solution should be 3–5 percent essential oil and 95–97 percent carrier.
Take a bath: Mix a few drops of oil with a dispersant, such as full-cream milk, and add the solution to a warm bath. The dispersant is necessary to help the oil mix with the water. Without it, a layer of undiluted oil will remain on the surface.
Massage: Dilute the oil in a carrier, such as almond oil, and use it as a massage oil.
Some essential oils are available as supplements for internal use. In the U.S., people can only take these supplements under the supervision of a licensed healthcare professional.
People have used essential oils for many years to treat a range of conditions. Many people consider them to be natural, but it is important to remember that they are chemicals.
Lack of research and approval
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) say that there is no evidence to prove that essential oils can help people with asthma.
In fact, some may be dangerous and trigger symptoms in the same way that air fresheners and other chemicals do.
The AAFA do not recommend using essential oils to treat asthma.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not regulate the use of essential oils for any conditions, including asthma, but they have issued warnings about some products.
Since the FDA do not approve their use, there are no regulations to control what an essential oil contains. As a result, users cannot be sure that the ingredients are pure.
People should use a small amount of the oil first to check that they are not allergic to it and that it does not trigger asthma symptoms.
In 2011, researchers published an allergy case study in which a person developed asthma symptoms after exposure to peppermint.
Anyone who is applying an essential oil to the skin should dilute it first with a carrier oil, such as olive or almond oil, because concentrated essential oils can cause a skin rash.
It is also advisable to apply one or two drops of diluted oil to a small area of skin first. Leave it for 24 hours to test for a reaction before applying the diluted oil to a larger area of skin.
Complementary treatment and medical care
Essential oils cannot replace appropriate medical care.
Asthma can be life-threatening, and people with this condition should take any medications that their doctor prescribes and attend appointments as they recommend.
Essentials oils may be a helpful treatment, but people should always consult a doctor before using them and be aware that oils may not be suitable for children.
It is particularly crucial to check with a doctor before using oils during pregnancy.
Essential oils are a complementary therapy for asthma. A doctor will prescribe medications to help people manage their condition. Medications may include:
Bronchodilators: These relax the muscles around the airways.
Anti-inflammatories: Usually corticosteroids or steroids, these reduce the swelling of the airways.
The American Lung Association note that doctors might prescribe a new treatment for severe and persistent asthma. Examples of these treatments include:
- Atopic or allergic asthma: Anti-IgE (omalizumab)
- Eosinophilic asthma: Anti-IL-5 (mepolizumab, reslizumab, and benralizumab)
- Hyperreactive asthma: Bronchial thermoplasty
Asthma medicines do not cure asthma, but they can lessen the symptoms. It is important to follow the doctor's instructions regarding dosage and how to take the drug.
Preventing asthma from getting worse
It is also beneficial to identify and avoid symptom triggers, which may include air pollution, tobacco, exercise, and stress.
After speaking to a doctor, people with asthma may be able to use essential oils to supplement their medical treatment.
However, they should use them with care, as there is limited research on their effectiveness and safety.
Is it safe for people with asthma to use essential oils?
People with asthma should not use essential oils unless their doctor instructs them otherwise. There is no evidence to show that essential oils can help asthma and, in fact, they may be harmful to use. Always talk to your doctor before using any essential oil.Gerhard Whitworth, RN Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.