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 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.
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.
Ohlheiser, Abby. "FDA warns three companies against marketing their products as Ebola treatments or cures." Washington Post.
Medical Review March 2017.