Aromatherapy/Essential Oils for Common Colds

Whether due to the changing of the seasons or running yourself down working or playing too hard, everyone occasionally catches a cold. There are many ways in which essential oils can protect us from cold-inducing germs. Some essences can keep the space around us naturally microbe-free, others can prepare our immune system for defense, and yet others are able to combat the microbes once they have entered our bodies. Because there is a very narrow window during which one can head off a cold before it starts, using aromatherapy for colds is ideal upon onset of the earliest sign of a cold, when one starts to feel run-down.

Using Aromatherapy and Essential Oils for Common Colds

Infusing a room with selected essences is one of the best ways to eliminate symptoms of a cold. To diffuse essential oils, disperse them so that their aroma fills the area with natural fragrance. One can add a few drops of oil to a bowl of boiled water or into a special aromatherapy diffuser, which combines the essence with water kept over sustained heat. Herbal steam can reduce congestion, and if the vapor temperature is 110 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, it will also kill cold germs on contact.

Several essential oils are particularly well suited as aromatherapy treatments for common colds, including:

Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) is known to help loosen mucus and heal the throat, nasal passages and bronchial tubes. It is a powerful decongestant with strong germicidal and antibacterial effects.

Ravensara (Ravensara aromatica) is known for its natural anti-infectious and antiviral properties. Because of the strong, slightly medicinal smell of this oil, many practitioners blend it with a sweeter-smelling oil with antiseptic effects, such as lemon or eucalyptus.

Other essential oils have anti-microbial actions, protect against colds and are highly effective for respiratory support, whose essences can be inhaled to address ear, nose, throat and lung problems. These include:

  • Frankincense (Boswella carteri)
  • Lavender (Lavandula augustifolia)
  • Lemon (Citrus limonom)
  • Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
  • Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis)
  • Tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia).

Aromatherapy/Essential Oils Remedies for Common Colds

Below are several ways to use aromatherapy to remedy the common cold:

  • Add boiled water to a bowl and add a few drops of eucalyptus. Place a towel over the head to create a steam tent, close the eyes to avoid eye irritation and slowly inhale in the aroma for 5 to 10 minutes. Repeat 2-3 times a day until symptoms abate. By adding thyme, rosemary and lemon, one can help loosen mucus and heal the throat, nasal passages and bronchial tubes.
  • Mix a few drops of eucalyptus, ravensar, lavender or tea tree oil. Inhale from a tissue during the day or place it under the pillow at night.
  • To help address dry air passages, add 10 drops of tea tree oil to a bowl of hot water or vaporizer and leave in the bedroom overnight.
  • For an anti-congestion neck, throat or chest rub, blend 3 drops each of eucalyptus and peppermint with 2 teaspoons of a carrier oil—a cold-pressed vegetable oil derived from the fatty portion of a plant, usually the seeds, kernels or the nuts (for example grapeseed, apricot kernel and sweet almond oils). Use twice daily.
  • Aromatherapy baths can relieve the aches and pains associated with the common cold and facilitate a restful sleep. Add 10 drops of eucalyptus or tea tree oil to hot water (102 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit) and soak for approximately fifteen minutes.

What is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is a holistic approach to health using essential oils for healing. Essential oils are the pure essences of plants extracted from the roots, leaves or blossoms, each containing its own mix of active ingredients, which determines the healing properties of the oil. Because essential oils evaporate quickly, their molecules are easily inhaled. They affect our central nervous system, and cross the "blood-brain" barrier, providing a number of therapeutic effects for various conditions, including the common cold.

Is Aromatherapy Safe?

When providing self-healing through aromatherapy, it is important to choose the proper essential oils for each situation. Be aware of your own body's sensitivity to any essential oil and adjust usage accordingly. Treat the oils with the same caution that you would use with medicine, and always seek professional advice whenever necessary.

Other guidelines include:

  • Untrained users should never use essential oils undiluted on the skin due to potential allergic reactions.
  • Only use eucalyptus for the time when you need to clear a cold. Long-term use of this oil has an effect on the liver.
  • Some of the indicated essences for colds should be avoided during pregnancy or by those with various health conditions:
    • Pregnancy: Avoid rosemary and peppermint.
    • Epilepsy: Avoid rosemary and eucalyptus.
    • High blood pressure: Avoid eucalyptus, rosemary and thyme.
    • Asthma and other respiratory conditions: Avoid inhaling essential oils.
  • Keep essential oils away from children. Essential oils are very concentrated and should not be placed too near a baby's head, as prolonged inhalation can cause an enlarged liver. Do not use eucalyptus oil on children under 6 years.
  • Never store essential oils near fire or a naked flame, or burn in a diffuser without water due to high flammability.

What is a Cold?

The common cold is a highly contagious virus affecting the upper respiratory system. One can catch a cold by inhaling the virus if sitting closely to someone who sneezes, or by touching one’s nose, eyes or mouth after having touched something contaminated by the virus.

Once someone has a cold virus, the symptoms usually begin in 2 or 3 days, though it may take a week. Typically, an irritated nose or scratchy throat is the first sign, followed within hours by sneezing and a watery nasal discharge.

Depending on which virus is the culprit, the following cold symptoms may also manifest:

  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Muscle aches
  • Headache
  • Postnasal drip
  • Decreased appetite
  • Mild fever

The entire cold is usually over without intervention in about 7 days, with perhaps a lingering cough for another week. If it lasts longer, see a doctor to rule out another problem such as a sinus infection, ear infection or allergies.

Additional Resources

Aromatherapy-at-Home.com has a information on aromatherapy and colds.

Aromaweb is a website that offers information on aromatherapy.

Holistic Online offers additional information on aromatherapy remedies for cold.

Medline Plus has a medical knowledge on the common cold.

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