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Can Essential Oils Treat or Prevent Colds?

Why give it a try?

essential oils for colds

Highlights

  1. Some studies support the use of essential oils to treat cold symptoms.
  2. Peppermint and eucalyptus are common recommendations.
  3. Essential oils are generally safe when used in low doses.

Most people know the misery of a cold and go all-out to find remedies. If your go-to cold medicine isn’t providing relief, consider using alternative methods to treat your symptoms. Essential oils may treat symptoms like congestion and even shorten your cold’s duration.

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Benefits

The benefits of essential oils

Benefits
  1. Essential oils may serve as an alternative to medication.
  2. Certain oils can help you sleep, which may reduce your risk of cold.
  3. Some oils can help treat viral infections, while others can reduce fever.

Essential oils are an alternative to prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. Some essential oils may help you fall asleep. Adequate sleep may help prevent colds.

Research shows people who sleep less than six hours a night have four times the risk of catching a cold than people who sleep seven hours a night or more.

Essential oils that promote relaxation and sleep include:

  • lavender
  • chamomile
  • bergamot
  • sandalwood

Research

What the research says

Although essential oils have been used as folk remedies for centuries, there isn’t a lot of scientific research to support their effectiveness against the common cold. Some studies do support their use, though.

One 2010 study showed that inhaling steam with chamomile essential oil helped relieve cold symptoms. A separate 2010 study found that melaleuca oil, also known as tea tree oil, has antiviral properties.

A severe cold can sometimes morph into a nasty case of bronchitis. According to a 2010 review, eucalyptus oil has antiviral and antimicrobial properties. These properties have historically been used to treat the common cold. Inhaled or oral eucalyptus oil and its main component, 1,8-cineole, may safely fight viruses and respiratory problems such as bronchitis. Eucalyptus is also used to create a cool compress to reduce fever.

Peppermint oil is used as a natural decongestant and fever-reducer. It contains menthol, an ingredient found in topical rubs that helps relieve congestion. A 2003 in vitro study demonstrated the viral activity of peppermint oil. Menthol is also used in many cough drops to help soothe sore throats and quiet coughs.

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Treatment

How to use essential oils for colds

The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) recommends several methods to use essential oils.

Steam inhalation is like an essential oil sauna. For best results, follow these steps:

  • Place up to seven drops of essential oil in a large pot or bowl of boiling water.
  • Lean over the bowl (keep about ten inches away or you may get a steam burn) and cover your head with a towel to create a tent.
  • Close your eyes and breathe through your nose for no more than two minutes at a time.

To directly inhale essential oils, sniff them right from the bottle or add up to three drops to a cotton ball or handkerchief and inhale. You can also add a few drops to your pillow before bedtime.

A relaxing and less intense way to use essential oils is in your bath. Stir two to 12 drops into one tablespoon of carrier oil and add the mixture to your bathwater.

You can help relieve headaches by dabbing a drop of diluted peppermint oil onto your temples.

Aromatherapy diffusers are a less direct method of inhaling essential oils. Electric and candle diffusers offer light oil dispersion; vaporizers provide more intense diffusion.

Risks and warnings

Risks and warnings

Risks
  1. Applying undiluted essential oils to your skin may cause burns or irritation.
  2. Inhaling a scent in large amounts or over an extended time may cause dizziness.
  3. Many essential oils may not be safe for children.

Essential oils are generally safe when used in low doses, but they’re potent and should be used with care. You shouldn’t ingest essential oils. When used undiluted on the skin, essential oils may cause burns, inflammation, itching, and rash. To reduce your risk of irritation, dilute essential oils with a carrier oil such as:

  • jojoba oil
  • sweet almond oil
  • olive oil
  • coconut oil
  • grape seed oil

Before using essential oils on children or babies, it’s best to consult your doctor or a trained aromatherapist. For children, NAHA recommends using three drops of essential oil per one ounce of carrier oil. For adults, NAHA recommends using 15 to 30 drops of essential oil per one ounce of carrier oil.

Peppermint oil shouldn’t be given to children under six years old. According to a 2007 study, menthol has caused young children to stop breathing and babies to develop jaundice.

Inhaling essential oils in large quantities or for long periods of time may cause dizziness, headache, and nausea.

If you’re pregnant or have a serious medical condition, you shouldn’t use essential oils without consulting your doctor.

Check out: Quick tips for treating kids with a cold or flu »

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Other treatments

Traditional treatments for cold symptoms

There isn’t a known cure for the common cold. This means that if you have a cold, the only thing you can do is let it run its course. Along with using essential oils, you may also relieve your symptoms with:

  • acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever, headache, and minor aches and pains
  • decongestant drugs to relieve congestion and clear nasal passages
  • a salt-water gargle to soothe sore throat and cough
  • hot tea with lemon, honey, and cinnamon to sooth sore throat
  • fluids to stay hydrated

If your mom fed you chicken soup when you had a cold, she was on to something. A 2000 study suggests chicken soup has anti-inflammatory properties that help lessen the severity of respiratory infections. Chicken soup and other warm liquids, such as hot tea, help loosen congestion and prevent dehydration.

According to a 2007 review, echinacea may help prevent colds and shorten their duration. Zinc lozenges taken within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms may also shorten a cold’s duration.

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Takeaway

What you can do now for cold relief

If you catch a cold, try steam inhaling essential oils to help break-up congestion. Drink plenty of fluids and rest as much as possible. Most colds clear up within a week. If yours lingers or you have a persistent fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, consult your doctor.

The best way to prevent a future cold is to keep your immune system healthy. You can do this by eating a balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, and exercising regularly. The time to learn about essential oils and purchase the supplies you need isn’t when you’re sick. Learn all you can now so you’re ready to use them at the first signs of symptoms. Start with a few basic oils such as lavender, peppermint, and tea tree.

Keep reading: 11 cold and flu home remedies »

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