How to Use Essential Oils for the Flu

Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT on March 23, 2017Written by Jennifer Purdie on March 23, 2017

Overview

In most cases, having the flu means increasing self-care as you wait for the infection to run its course. One effective method of self-care is using essential oils as a topical rub or for aromatherapy. These strongly scented oils can help alleviate your flu symptoms, especially by clearing your nasal passage and reducing headaches. Some oils may even have antiviral benefits to help treat infections and reduce fever. Keep reading to learn how to use these oils and which ones to use for the flu.

How to use essential oils for the flu

Inhalation is the most beneficial way to use essential oils for a flu. You can inhale essential oils by sniffing the bottle directly or adding a few drops of oil to a cotton ball or handkerchief. This method helps clear your nasal passages so you can breathe better. The oils may also help you sleep better and destress.

You can also add a few drops essential oils to:

  • a diffuser, to clean the air
  • steamy bathwater, for less direction inhalation
  • a carrier oil, for massaging the head, neck, or feet
  • a large bowl of hot water, for steam inhalation
  • hot or cold compresses

Benefits

Benefits depend on the application and type of oil. For example, the menthol and cooling effects of peppermint oil may work better in a chest rub than in a diffuser. With topical applications, be sure to dilute the oil before applying it to your skin. You can use an ounce of carrier oil, such as coconut oil, for every few drops of essential oil.

OilBenefits
lemonclears your nasal passages and allows for steady breathing
lavender relieves stress, fatigue, depression, and headaches
peppermint reduces coughs, sinusitis, and throat infections
thymehas antibacterial activity to help fight respiratory infections
eucalyptus reduces fevers and fights viruses
tea tree oilinhibits bacteria and fights infections
chamomile relieves cold and flu symptoms
clove (eugenol)has antiviral and antifungal properties to clean surfaces or air
cinnamoncan clean surfaces or air
rosemary is a nontoxic way to clean surfaces or air

Read more: Natural antihistamines to try »

Risks and warnings of using essential oils

Potency: Essential oils are extremely potent. Avoid taking essential oils by mouth. You also shouldn’t use a concentrated amount. If you don’t dilute the oils, they may irritate the skin, eyes, and lungs. You can dilute essential oils with carrier oils such as coconut oil, avocado oil, castor oil, or others. Dilute a few drops of essential oil with an ounce of carrier oil. Depending on the essential oil, the ratio can vary. Do a patch test on the inside of your forearm to check for any skin sensitivities.

Quality: Be sure to buy your essential oils from a reputable source. They should ships your oils in glass bottles. Plastic bottles increase the risk of contamination and decrease the shelf life the oil.

Pregnancy: Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about essential oil use. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you may want to avoid using essential oils. There’s not enough research about the safety of essential oils for children or pregnant women. It may be toxic in large doses.

What the research says

There is limited research on essential oils and the flu, especially in humans. Some studies show that essential oil have properties that can fight viruses, alleviate flu symptoms, and increase comfort during the illness.

A 2010 study looked at a commercial essential oil blend of clove, wild orange, and cinnamon. Its application reduced in vitro viral particles by 90 percent. The oil blend also decreased infection.

A 2014 review of essential oils recognized the health benefits of essential oils. They also noted antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and other properties that may have applications for human medicine.

Other treatment options

While essential oils can help fight the flu and decrease your symptoms, you shouldn’t rely on them as your only treatment. Over-the-counter medications work better and may even decrease your recovery time. Most of these medications have side effects such as drowsiness or alertness, but you can try:

  • decongestants, which should only be used for a few days to avoid any rebound symptoms
  • antihistamines, which block typical flu symptoms such as sneezing, itching, and runny nose
  • acetaminophen, which relieves fever and other pain associated with the flu
  • throat lozenges, which you can suck on to relieve a scratchy throat

Limit what medications you take to avoid overloading your system. Seek medical attention if you have symptoms for longer than three days or if they are getting worse.

Read more: Drugs and treatments for the flu »

What you can do now

Learn the symptoms of the flu so you know when to start your essential oil treatment. You can begin using essential oils immediately when you feel flu symptoms coming on. Add a few drops to your bath, diffuse them into the air, or mix them with a carrier oil for a rub.

You can find essential oils online or at a health store. Keeping a few basic oils around, such as tea tree, peppermint, and lavender, can be helpful, even if you’re not sick. They can also help with stress or pain.

To prevent yourself from getting the flu, keep your immune system strong by eating a healthy diet and getting your annual flu vaccination.

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