AAFA Explains: Can Essential Oils Help Asthma?

 

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic disease that inflames the airways and makes it hard to breathe. There is no cure. The best way to manage asthma is:

  • Avoid your asthma triggers.
  • Take medicines to prevent symptoms.
  • Prepare to treat asthma episodes if they occur.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils, like herbal remedies, come from plants. Examples include lavender, peppermint, tea tree oil and eucalyptus.

Practitioners of traditional and folk medicine (usually meaning those without a medical degree) have used essential oils for thousands of years, much like herbal remedies.

Today, they are often sold as “aromatherapy” with claims that they are “natural.”
People use the oils by massaging them onto the skin or inhaling the aromas.

Is there any evidence to back up claims that essential oils can help my asthma?

There is no evidence that essential oils can help asthma. In fact, breathing in the particles released by the oils may trigger an asthma attack.

The strong odors emitted by essential oils contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs affect indoor air quality, just like incense, air fresheners and scented candles. Poor indoor air quality can make you sick with asthma, allergies and other illnesses.

Some essential oils may irritate the skin.

Essential oils are not regulated the same way prescription asthma medicines are. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies essential oils depending on their intended use. For example, the FDA classifies something like a relaxing “good” scent as a cosmetic (e.g. lavender lotion). The FDA does not have regulations defining “natural” or “organic” for cosmetics.

Oils may also be poisonous to young children if swallowed.

The bottom line:

There is no evidence that essential oils can help asthma. Essential oils may be harmful to people with asthma.

The FDA has also issued warning letters to companies that sell essential oils for making false claims.

The CDC has noted that complementary and alternative medicine treatments do not undergo scientific review and may not be safe. It is best to talk to your doctor first before trying anything new. Do not substitute anything for the asthma medicine your doctor has prescribed.

This post is part of our series called “AAFA Explains Alternative and Complementary Medicine."

This blog series is about complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) for asthma and allergies. It can help guide you as you decide between choices that may be “likely safe” or “potentially unsafe.”

When new drugs and medical procedures are developed, they go through rigorous scientific study. CAM treatments usually do not go through the same type of research. As a result, whether it works (called efficacy) is unproven for most treatments.


References:

Aromatherapy. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Essential Oil Diffusers And Asthma. Ask the Expert. American Academy of Asthma, Allergy & Immunology

Gould Soloway, Rose Ann, RN, BSN, MSEd, DABAT emerita. Essential Oils: Poisonous When Misused. Poison Control. National Capital Poison Center.

CDC Asthma Expert Answers Parent Questions about Steroids, Essential Oils and Outgrowing It

Ohlheiser, Abby. "FDA warns three companies against marketing their products as Ebola treatments or cures." Washington Post.

Medical Review March 2017.

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Comments (9)

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K8sMom2002 posted:

Hugs, Holly! How are you feeling now? 

I think your advice is very wise. Each person with asthma is unique with unique triggers, and it's important to avoid any asthma triggers when possible. There are things that I can be around, and it's no big deal for me ... and then there are things that other people with asthma can be around, but it's a real problem for my asthma.

I’m feeling much better.  Thanks! ☺️

Hugs, Holly! How are you feeling now? 

I think your advice is very wise. Each person with asthma is unique with unique triggers, and it's important to avoid any asthma triggers when possible. There are things that I can be around, and it's no big deal for me ... and then there are things that other people with asthma can be around, but it's a real problem for my asthma.

I have asthma.  This morning I went to a friend’s home and they had their essential oils diffuser on.  I don’t know which essential oil they were using, but within 5 minutes of breathing it my lungs felt like they were on fire and I couldn’t breath.  Once I got outside I started to improve.  I had to use albuterol because I was still struggling to breathe.  I’ve always heard positive things about essential oils, but after doing a little research today, I’ve decided not to diffuse them in my home.  It’s too risky and I don’t think it’s worth my health and safety or family and friends that visit my home.  Some of the oils are dangerous for children and pets.  Some even inhibit treatments for various serious illnesses and disorders like ADHD, which I happen have.  I think it’s important to thoroughly research the pros and cons of essential oils, particularly diffusing, before bringing them home.  

This is very interesting and, in terms of allergies and irritated nasal passages, I have read on numerous sites that diluted forms of certain essential oils (very diluted) can actually reduce the dust mite population in the laundry on clothes, on bedding, and even on furniture (versus using a product such as "Endust" which has chemicals). By chance have any essential oil companies (e.g. Do Terra) reached out to have some of their products or essential oils to see (when diluted and safer/not so strong) how they can work against dust mites? Or, have you all at AAFA considered reaching out to any companies? I know we must be careful as essential oils can be strong (and sometimes too strong to put on skin etc), but I am speaking about a diluted solution of lavendar or eucalpytis, for example? Thoughts? 

 

Shea, I think this would be a great discussion to have with your doctor. It's tricky sometimes figuring out exactly what is triggering our asthma, but by keeping a detailed journal, we can uncover patterns of what makes our asthma worse and what makes it better.

Interesting. I have read lots of places that essential oils can be used to reduce mold and dust mites and open airways. I use eucalyptus and tea tree aLOT... I hope I am not causing my asthma problems... I KNOW a lot of candles trigger my asthma, and cleaning chemicals like bleach and chlorine, that is why I look to alternatives with essential oils that I thought were not as harsh but could keep the air free from molds, mites, and other irritants. I do not think I have had problems with essential oils triggering me but I might have to test myself now since I never thought to see if the two were associated.

WWe are most grateful for this article!  My lungs do not know the difference between "essential"oils and other fragrances AKA chemicals.  Please consider using the standard that NO smell is the good smell...we need to breathe unadulterated air!  Rid our environment from chemical odors found in personal products, detergents/fabric softener, plug-ins, household cleaners and the like.  Additionally, our children will benefit from a clean air environment!

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