Aromatherapy/Essential Oils for Asthma

About 20 million Americans live with asthma—for these people, breathing is difficult. When they endure an asthma attack, they feel unable to get air into their lungs. They avoid situations that will cause an attack, such as smoke, cold air, strong smells, or even laughing too hard.

Prescription medications can help treat the symptoms of asthma and prevent or treat attacks, but often these come with unpleasant side effects. There is evidence that aromatherapy and essential oils from certain plants can help relieve asthma, while avoiding the side effects of prescription drugs.

How Can Aromatherapy Help Relieve Asthma?

Aromatheraphy can be helpful in dealing with asthma because a number of essential oils have calming and antispasmodic effects that can encourage emotional balance, ease the struggle to breathe, and cause bronchodilation. Because some asthmatics react to scents, it is better to use the oils topically as a rub rather than an inhalation. To be safe, confer with a trained aromatherapist in choosing the appropriate essential oils for treatment of asthma.

The following essential oils also can be helpful for asthmatics:

  • Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea), which has a warming effect and anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic and sedative properties.
  • Frankincense (Boswellia carteii), which has an uplifting effect; it has anti-inflammatory and expectorant properties.
  • Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens), which has a comforting effect and antispasmodic properties.
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale), which has a warming effect and expectorant and stimulant properties.
  • Lavender (Lavendula officinalis), which has a calming effect and anti-inflammatory and sedative properties.
  • Marjoram (Origanum majorana), which has a warming effect and antispasmodic properties.
  • Peppermint (Mentha piperita), which has a refreshing effect and antispasmodic, decongestant and expectorant properties.
  • Rose (Rosa damascena), which has a relaxing effect and antispasmodic and sedative properties.

Combine the selected essential oil with a carrier oil, such as sunflower oil, sweet almond oil, soy oil or grapeseed oil, and rub it on the chest to relieve tightness. Using 20 mL of the carrier oil, add 10 drops of the essential oil for a 2.5 percent solution, or 5 drops for a 1 percent solution.

One possible adult remedy involves adding five drops of each of the following: Thyme linalol (Thymus vulgaris), honey myrtle (Myrtus vulgaris), ravensara (Ravensara aromatica) Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobile) in a carrier oil of 10 ml of Echinacea-infused oil and 15 ml of cold-pressed peach kernel oil. Rub the oils on the neck and chest twice a day.

What is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is an alternative therapy that uses plant oils, particularly essential oils, to treat physical and emotional ailments. An essential oil is not a fragrance or perfume oil; rather, it is the pure, natural essence of the plant and contains no synthetics. Essential oils are extracted from flowers, needles, bark, roots, stems, berries, seeds and fruits.

Essential oils have been used for thousands of years to clean the air, drive away insects, and for bathing and massage. French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse is credited with the discovery that led to modern aromatherapy: After accidentally burning his hand, he poured lavender oil onto the wound. After noticing that the wound healed quickly, he began studying essential oils’ effects on the body.

In aromatherapy, essential oils may be inhaled or applied to the body through massage with a carrier oil; an odorless, neutral plant oil that carries and disperses the essential oil. Essential oils have been found to have various effects on the body, including stimulating the brain’s pleasure center, stimulating the adrenal glands, and altering the levels of hormones or enzymes carried in the blood.

Is Aromatherapy Safe?

Caution must be used when using essential oils. They are flammable and should not be used near open flames. Nor should they be swallowed, as they can be toxic. They can cause allergic reactions among some people, or other sensitizations (for example, bergamot can increase sensitivity to the sun, and both tea tree oil and lavender have been noted to have effects like the female hormone estrogen). They should never be applied directly to the skin in an undiluted form.

Asthma sufferers should avoid some oils in particular. Eucalyptus oil, for example, (Eucalyptus globulus), is used by some asthma sufferers, but it can make the condition worse. People who have high blood pressure should also not use eucalyptus.

Because aromatherapy products make no specific medical claims, they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Scientific studies have not yet proven the effectiveness of aromatherapy in treating asthma, though anecdotal evidence supports its use.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic condition that affects the airways in the lungs. In a person with asthma, the inner walls of the airways are swollen and very sensitive to allergens and irritants, such as pet dander, cigarette smoke, cold air, and perfumes. When irritated, the airways contract, making the air passages narrower. This makes breathing even more difficult, causing an asthma attack.

Symptoms of asthma include:

  • Coughing, which is often worse at night or in the early morning
  • Wheezing or noisy breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness

Of the 20 million Americans with asthma, approximately nine million are children. More women have asthma than men, although among children, most asthma sufferers are boys. Allopathic treatments for asthma include avoiding the irritants that will trigger an asthma attack and using asthma medications, such as bronchodilators, inhaled steroids, and leukotriene inhibitors.

Additional Resources

Lunny, Dr. Vivian. “Asthma and Its Aromatheraphy Management”.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Diseases and Conditions Index on Asthma.

Torquati, Lori. “Treating Asthma with Aromatic Essential Oils.” on the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy website.

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