Essential oils may ease the symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or support other therapies. However, they cannot be used as a replacement for other therapies, and may best be considered as a complementary therapy for symptom relief.

This article discusses essential oils, including which ones may be beneficial for a person with COPD. It also outlines possible risks or side effects of using essential oils. Finally, it looks at COPD, treatment options, and when to seek medical advice.

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Essential oils are concentrated extracts of active compounds found in plants. The oils are used in alternative health practices such as naturopathy and aromatherapy.

While some active compounds and essential oils may potentially benefit people with COPD by clearing mucus from the lungs and opening the airways, there is insufficient evidence to support their use as a cure or treatment. However, they may help alleviate some CPOD symptoms.

Essential oils can be used in a diffuser or diluted in a carrier oil and applied to the skin. Essential oils that may be beneficial for COPD are listed below.

Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus essential oil may have advantages as a supportive therapy for people with COPD.

For example, research published in Advances in Therapy notes that a compound found in eucalyptus oil — 1,8-cineole — has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may be helpful for respiratory disorders such as COPD.

Other research into 1,8-cineole found that potential benefits include:

  • preventing flare-ups in cases of moderate to severe COPD
  • clearing mucus from the lungs
  • reducing mucus production
  • opening up the airways in the lungs

The researchers noted that complementary therapy using 1,8-cineole showed a reduction in exacerbations of COPD.

Further research published in the journal Medicinenotes that another extract from eucalyptus, called myrtol, has proven effective in treating certain symptoms in people with COPD. Myrtol has anti-inflammatory properties and may help thin out mucus, making it easier to expel.

Animal study

Research published in the Journal of Medicinal Plants Research found that eucalyptus essential oil reduced markers of COPD in an animal study. Subjects exposed to the essential oil had reduced inflammation in the airways and bronchioles, as well as reduced markers of inflammatory damage. Researchers noted that eucalyptus oil may have use as a complementary human treatment for COPD.

Rosemary

Rosemary essential oil is also a source of compounds such as 1,8 cineole. However, different essential oils will have varying levels of the compound and efficacy.

In addition, the essential oil has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that may help with blood circulation and help boost the immune system.

Thyme and oregano

Carvacrol and thymol are two compounds found in thyme and oregano essential oils that may have use in future therapies for lung conditions. Research in animals, posted to European Respiratory Journal, found that thymol and carvacrol reduced inflammation in the airways and had a protective antioxidant effect.

Another animal study published in Pharmacological Reports found that carvacrol reduced markers of inflammation in an animal model of COPD from cigarette smoke, having a preventative effect.

While early research supports these compounds as anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds, more research in humans is needed.

In addition, thyme and oregano essential oils may irritate the airways when diffused too heavily, and may be best used in a topical chest rub.

Orange and bergamot

Orange and bergamot are two citrus essential oils that may benefit the respiratory system.

A 2015 study found that concentrated compounds from orange and bergamot had a protective effect in the respiratory system, preventing oxidative damage in the lung cells that leads to issues such as COPD. This may also help reduce symptom prevalence.

Lavender and chamomile

Research published in Explore found that lavender and chamomile aromatherapy reduced depression, anxiety, and stress levels in community-dwelling older adults.

Stress may be a major factor in COPD, as it can exacerbate symptoms. A 2019 study notes that COPD symptoms often cause heightened levels of mental distress, leading to avoidance of therapies or physical activity.

Frankincense and myrrh

Frankincense and myrrh essential oils may provide some benefit for respiratory conditions. Research posted to Scientific Reports noted that both essential oils suppress systemic inflammation in the body. It added that the effects may be greater when the oils are used in combination.

There are several ways to use essential oils, including the following:

  • Diffusers: Various devices diffuse oil in water, which is then vaporized as steam.
  • Steam: Adding a few drops of essential oil to a pot of boiling water may also vaporize the essential oil into the air around the pot.
  • Topical application: Diluting the essential oil in a carrier oil and then applying it to the skin of the chest may help the body absorb the oil. However, undiluted or pure essential oils should never be applied directly to the skin.

It is important to note that essential oils may cause reactions in the body and can produce adverse effects when combined with medications. If a person is using an essential oil topically, they should apply a small amount of diluted oil to a small area of skin to test for any reactions.

Essential oils should not be digested, as they can be dangerous. This was observed in a 2012 study. If a person thinks they may have ingested essential oils, they can contact poison control or call 800-222-1222.

Learn more about essential oils here.

There are some things to consider when it comes to essential oils and COPD, and people should seek professional advice before using essential oils.

Proof of efficacy

Much of the research around essential oils involves finding out which individual compounds may have potential use as future therapies. While results may help identify the working compounds or the reasons why an essential oil may be helpful, they do not provide proof of the efficacy of using essential oils as a treatment for COPD.

Research in humans

In addition, researchers often use highly concentrated or pure versions of compounds that are not available in essential oils. The results may also come from lab tests involving isolated cells, animal studies, or other forms of research not directly tied to the essential oil and COPD.

As such, more direct research using essential oils in humans is necessary to assess the effectiveness of using essential oils for COPD.

Allergic reactions

Additionally, the potency of some compounds and essential oils may have an irritating effect, and cause allergic reactions. If a person using essential oils notices their symptoms worsen or they develop new symptoms, they should stop using the oils and seek medical advice. The compounds may also cause major irritation or damage if ingested.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a term for inflammatory disease that results in two conditions: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Symptoms of COPD include chronic coughing, excess sputum production, and breathing difficulties.

Risk factors may include genetics and long-term exposure to toxins, such as chemicals in the environment or workplace, as well as cigarette smoke.

There is no cure for the disease. A number of primary treatments may help manage the condition or keep it from progressing, such as quitting smoking, undergoing pulmonary rehabilitation, and using medications to open the airways and make it easier to breathe.

Some people may need regular oxygen therapy or surgical procedures to help manage COPD and its symptoms.

Home remedies, including essential oils, may be useful as complementary therapies to help manage COPD symptoms.

Learn more about COPD here.

Treatment for COPD varies, and a person needs to work closely with their doctor to find the best treatment options.

Medications can help ease symptoms or reduce flare-ups, and allow the person to breathe easier. Pulmonary rehabilitation can be an important step for some people, as it helps rebuild strength in the lungs.

Other treatments, such as supplemental oxygen and surgeries, may be required in cases where people have severe breathing difficulties.

In addition to standard medical treatments, some complementary therapies may help manage symptoms. The American Lung Association notes that complementary therapies such as acupuncture, yoga, and massage therapy may be able to improve symptoms and quality of life for a person with COPD.

Other lifestyle choices and therapies that may have use as complementary treatments for COPD include dietary changes, supplements, or essential oils.

Learn more about home therapies for COPD here.

Anyone who suspects they have COPD should seek medical advice for diagnosis and treatment. COPD symptoms may include:

  • chronic cough
  • wheezing
  • regular shortness of breath
  • general fatigue
  • frequent respiratory infections
  • excess phlegm production

Early detection is key to finding a working treatment.

COPD is a chronic disease that requires regular medical treatment.

Natural compounds such as essential oils may ease symptoms or support other therapies. However, essential oil therapy is not a replacement for other therapies and may best be used as a complementary therapy for the relief of COPD symptoms.

A person should seek professional advice before using essential oils.