Influenza is more than just "a flu bug." It is a highly contagious respiratory disease that attacks the nose, throat, and lungs, and can even send a person to the hospital. For the elderly or very young, the flu can be life-threatening.
Unfortunately, flu viruses are constantly changing and mutating, which makes it hard for researchers to develop effective medications.
As a result, natural remedies such as essential oils are increasingly popular.
Traditional healthcare practitioners have used essential oils for centuries to treat many ailments.
Today, essential oils are used in a variety of ways, from making cosmetics smell good to improving quality of life for people with cancer.
Some claims about the effects of essential oils are anecdotal, but many studies are beginning to confirm that some oils can help fight or prevent the flu.
Researchers are exploring both the effectiveness of essential oils for flu treatment and the best ways to apply these oils.
Research has found that the following essential oils have significant anti-influenza virus properties:
- Bergamot oil is effective against flu viruses as a vapor after just 10 minutes of exposure.
- Eucalyptus oil shows anti-viral activity as a vapor.
- Red thyme oil is effective against flu viruses as a liquid phase.
- Cinnamon leaf oil also shows antiviral activity as a liquid.
- Tea tree oil is effective against the flu virus within 5 to 10 minutes of exposure, as found in another study.
- Lemon balm is also shown to prevent the avian influenza (bird flu) virus from reproducing.
Researchers have found that a commercial blend of essential oils significantly reduced the influenza virus' ability to spread.
Most essential oils are regarded as safe in certain concentrations by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, people should use all of them with caution.
People can try using essential oils on their own, but it is best to get advice from an aromatherapist or an alternative healthcare practitioner first.
There are two basic methods for using essential oils:
- Application to the skin: Topical application of essential oils should always be done by mixing them with a carrier oil, such as jojoba oil, olive oil, or nut oil. They can be massaged in or put into lotions and bath products.
- Inhalation: This is done by floating the oils in hot water and inhaling the vapors or using a room diffuser.
Consuming essential oils is not usually safe and has significant risks. While it can sometimes be done under a doctor's or aromatherapist's care, it is not recommended at home.
Just because essential oils are natural products, it does not mean they are harmless.
Similarly to other medications, essential oils can cause severe side effects if taken improperly or in excessive amounts.
Potential hazards of essential oils include:
- Irritation of the skin or mucous membrane: Infants, young children, older adults, and people with sensitive skin may be more likely to experience skin problems from essential oils.
- Drug and supplement interactions: Essential oils can interact with prescription medications and supplements, so it is always a good idea to talk to a doctor before using them.
- Photosensitivity: Some essential oils, such as bergamot, make the skin more sensitive to sunlight. This could lead to severe sunburn if individuals are exposed to sunlight or a tanning booth within 24 hours of treatment.
Women who are pregnant are sometimes advised to avoid using essential oils due to the possibility of active ingredients crossing the placenta.
Essential oils must be used carefully and in the right way. Diluted wintergreen oil can be used safely on the skin, but it can be dangerously toxic if swallowed.
Although eucalyptus can be helpful for flu symptoms if inhaled, it can also cause seizures if swallowed.
Anyone with potential allergies should also be cautious when using essential oils, as they can cause serious reactions.
Keep essential oils away from the eyes and open flames. Remember that essential oils, as with all medications, should be kept out of the reach of children and pets.
Many essential oils are dangerous for pets, especially cats, so people should research which oils are non-toxic for animals before infusing them at home.
While humans have used essential oils for hundreds of years, it is only recently that the application of essential oils for flu treatment and other medical conditions has been subjected to scientific study.
Both contemporary research and early home remedies suggest that essential oils can be effective tools in the battle against influenza, particularly as resistance to existing medications grows.
The flu can be a serious and even life-threatening condition. However, using essential oils for flu symptoms also comes with some risks and is best done under the care of a doctor.