Asthma and Aromatherapy
Since I need something to direct folks to for the answer to a “frequently asked question” I found an article I wrote over a decade ago and thought it should be shared.
Please be aware that there is NO WAY to predict what oils can or will trigger an attack in an individual. Quite obviously, if you know you are allergic to, let’s say pine and spruce trees, then avoid the use of the various conifer (needle) oils. If most flowers bring on an attack, avoid the floral oils, and so on.
Any oil you intend to try should first be “tested.” Put a drop of the essential oil on a tissue or cotton ball and hold it at arms length from the sufferer. If it seems well tolerated, gradually bring it closer until the tissue or cotton ball is right under the nose. If it can be inhaled with no negative effects it is safe to try.
Do not try testing more than two essential oils per day, separated by several hours. (There are some who think I’m overly cautious advising this approach, but I’d much rather you stay safe than advance too quickly.)
Please don’t use any of the essential oils in a steam inhalation during an asthma attack. The use of steam, I’m told, almost always worsens the attack.
There are two oils that are said to have ‘antihistamine like’ properties and are said to prevent asthma attacks.
BLUE TANSY OIL (tanecetum anuum) There are authorities who state that Blue Tansy oil can halt an asthma attack in its tracks (Jeanne Rose is one of them)…and I have clients who say that diffusing a bit of this oil in an aromalamp each morning has allowed them to cut way down on allergy medications. Blue Tansy may prove useful both as an antihistamine to help prevent attacks, and as a treatment during an attack.(Jeanne Rose writes that she personally will put a drop of Blue Tansy on a sugar cube and take it internally to ease an Asthma attack. Our clients feedback indicates that inhalation is just as effective. The choice is up to you, but it is certainly the first essential oil I would reach for.
AMNI VISNAGA (khella) oil is supposed to have a similar effect, however it’s only fair to say that most people enjoy the scent of blue tansy (sweet and apple scented) and find the scent of ammi reminiscent of last week’s coffee grounds. The drug Intal (cromolyn sodium) has its origins from ammi visnaga. Khella Oil must be used (by inhalation) on a daily basis, not just when an attack threatens.
TREATING THE SYMPTOMS:
One of my French mentors wrote, years ago: “Asthma is a tricky thing, different circumstances can trigger attacks in different people, so caution is important here. A large number of Essential Oils have(or are reputed to have) effects on the respiratory system, which isn’t very surprising considering that they are breathed in and that scents are often very pleasant things. A large number will also carry warnings that they may trigger an asthmatic attack. Also, not a surprise when you consider things.” It is because of the oils powerful effects on the respiratory tract that well tolerated essential oils can bring swift relief to Asthma sufferers.
ESSENTIAL OILS THAT HAVE PROVEN HELPFUL FOR SOME ASTHMA VICTIMS:
The following oils are listed in order by both their ability to be tolerated without causing a reaction, and their effectiveness.
Blue Tansy (tanecetuum anuum) Jeanne Rose states that Blue Tansy is a natural source of theophylline, a bronchiodilator,which would explain its being recommended for asthma crisises. Many sources write of the links between childhood asthma and adult eczema and other dermatitis conditions. Although we do not recommend internal usage, she says she personally uses one drop of this oil on a sugar cube for bring her asthma attack to a halt. Kurt Schaubelt extolls this magnificent deep indigo oil for its antihistamine/anti-allergen properties. He suggests using it (applied to the solar plexus) in blends for asthma, or diffusing it in blends for emphasema…blending Pine, Cypress and just a touch of this lovely Tansy. (Obviously it is first necessary to test all the oils, as described above, before blending!)
Hyssop montana/canescens (ex decumbens) My French mentor writes that in his experience this particular Hyssop (and no others!) is the safest essential oil to use with Asthma sufferers. It appears that the pino-camphone content in this hyssop chemotype is very low so I believe there is no toxicity, compared with the other hyssop types. He says he has had years of experience with it, mainly with diffusers and really love the oil! Best results with asthma patients, little children and allergic people. He says it is the first oil he will reach for in cases of Asthma. This hyssop ssp montana/canescens (ex decumbens) is only found in the Haute Provence, France. Blue Tansy and this Hyssop are the first two essential oils I would test.
Litsea Cubeba. Litsea, sometimes called May Chang, has a clear lemony scent that also has bronchio-dilator and antispasmodic effects. It is normally well tolerated, but should be tested. It also blends aromatically well with amni visnaga (see above) and makes inhalation of the Khella Oil a lot more palatable. If I were to try daily inhalation of Amni Visnaga, I would most definitely blend it with the Litsea, both for the antispasmodic effect, but, more important, because the blend is amazingly pleasant from an aromatic standpoint.
Cypress Oil Cupressus sempervirens All of the conifers may help with respiratory problems. Cypress, in addition, is an antispasmodic which can help relieve bronchial spasms. However, any of the “Evergreen” oils can cause an allergic reaction to many people, so please be very sure to test this with your asthma patient. (See test method above.)
FRAGONIA(tm) Our experience is that is is a very useful oil for inhalation with any sort of lower respiratory issue, especially for asthma. We know of people who have been able to forego use of their daily Rx inhalers by the use of a Fragonia Inhaler on a daily basis. As with any other natural remedy, the cautions listed above still apply. One oil that has proven VERY helpful by regular use in lessening the frequency and severity of Asthma outbreaks is Australian FRAGONIA essential oil. We have seen very successful results by the use of this amazing oil, which was not even on my horizon when this original article was written. Yes, you should test with your Asthma sufferer, all the warnings above still apply, but it is an amazing addition to the arsenal of respiratory essential oils.
ASTHMA BLEND for inhalation use:
One drop of each on a cotton ball to smell at will whenever breathing feels constricted.
Try the combination and if the effect is positive, mix as follows:
In a small colored glass bottle (amber or cobalt) mix equal parts of the three oils. (1 15 ml (1/2 ounce) bottle will hold one measuring teaspoon of each oil.)
We’ve all done it. Ended up spilling or applying undiluted essential oils onto our skin.
Perhaps, with all the good caution in the world, you spilled an oil while measuring. (One of our staff once spilled an 8 ounce “pour bottle” of Pink Grapefruit onto her blue jeaned lap…this possibility is why not only do we have an emergency eyebath fountain on the production floor, but a walk in shower in our restroom.)
Perhaps you were told that oils could be applied undiluted, or you were given a roller bottle with not enough fixed oil for a safe dilution.
Perhaps a child got at a not tightly sealed bottle and spilled some on himself. (If a child has ingested essential oils do not delay, please call the National Poison Control Center at this number: 1-800-222-1222!)
What to do?
We see a lot of recommendations that you apply a carrier oil. PLEASE do not do that! It is not the solution. Applying a fixed/carrier oil will hold the essential oil against the skin and slow evaporation, thus increasing the risk of irritation and long term sensitization.
- WASH with soap and water. Wash WELL with soap and (warm, not hot) water. (Ideally for from 10 to 15 minutes.) That may be all you need to do. If there is no redness or irritation, you are home free.
- If skin is red, irritated, or painful, after removing the essential oil with soap and warm water, the best way to sooth the irritation is with an oatmeal wash.
Take a couple of handsful of whole oats. (the big cardboard Quaker Oats canister in the cereal shelf of your local grocery.) Pour them into a muslin bag or a thin sock. Knot the top shut and dip in water. Squeeze and massage the bag, and you will see a milky white liquid coming from the oats. Gently dab the irritated skin with this “Oatmilk” and let it dry. Repeat as needed.
If most of the body has been affected (yes, sometimes people spill a whole bottle of essential oil into their laps, see above.) then a bath, with a LOT of oats in the water will help. But after the bath, if needed, apply some more of the homemade “oatmilk.”
Why oats, specifically? Because oats contain specific constituents called avenanthramides. which are extremely powerful anti-inflammatories, found only in oats, (in very very low amounts, but still effective.) Research has shown the anti-inflammatory and anti-itch compontent of aventhramides. (And yes, they are bioavailable, so eat your oatmeal, children…preferably with brown sugar and raisins.)
(Personal note…Ground oats in a bag are a wonderful addition to a soothing bath. I keep a container of powdered oats in the bath room. Those would be best for the above remedy. But I’d not take the time to run them through the food processor or blender in an emergency.)
Note that at no time have we suggested applying any essential oils to the skin. Not anti-inflammatory oils, not skin soothers. None.
If the skin is still irritated, you might apply an unscented cream or lotion.
If the reaction is stronger than these simple home remedies can deal with, a trip to the Emergency Room would be appropriate. It’s vary rare, but an essential oil spill can lead to an allergic reaction, hives, breathing difficulties, even anaphylactic shock can result.
Graphic courtesy of the Tisserand Institute. Used with permission. For more information about