Congested? Essential oils to the rescue!

September 23, 2019 Providence Body & Mind Team

How essential oils can ease those annoying cold symptoms


There are many things to celebrate about the change of seasons: brilliant foliage, fun occasions like Halloween and making s'mores around a bonfire.

But celebrating colds? Not so much.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, once a cold virus enters your system, it can’t be stopped from running its course — usually seven to 10 days. Preventing a cold or allergies may be one of your biggest challenges in the fall.

But can essential oils rescue you from these seasonal annoyances? Essential oils are all the rage — touting everything from preventing illness to easing symptoms like stuffy nose, congestion and coughing. And it’s likely that at least one of your friends is selling them or you’ve seen a diffuser at a local coffee shop. Let’s break down the types of essential oils, how they can help and tips for using them for yourself and your family.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are produced by either pressing or distilling them from plants. They’re highly concentrated extracts that are made up of a unique mix of chemicals. Those cause the oils to smell a certain way and affect your body a certain way, too.

There are a few essential oils that may offer a natural, effective way to help ease the miseries of a cold. Since studies show that some are more effective than others, you’ll want to do your homework about the ones that may be helpful for specific conditions. Some work by reducing inflammation and nasal congestion. They can also act as antiseptics and provide relief in the respiratory tract.  

Types of essential oils

Here are some of the most popular types of essential oils and what they may be used for:

  • Eucalyptus – decongestant
  • Fennel – digestive or antimicrobial
  • Lavender – calming or reducing anxiety
  • Lemon – antioxidant or for reducing stress
  • Mandarin or orange – calming
  • Patchouli – antidepressant or anti-inflammatory
  • Peppermint – relief for nausea, muscle aches or coughing
  • Rosemary – decongestant
  • Siberian fir – calming and muscle relaxation
  • Tea tree – antimicrobial or to boost the immune system

Ways to use essential oils

Keep in mind that you should always talk with your doctor first if you have a health issue or if you have children in your home. If you are pregnant or nursing, it’s best to avoid using essential oils, as some may be unsafe for young children and unborn babies.

Here are three ways you can use essential oils to reduce cold symptoms:

Make a steam bowl to clear congestion

Breathing in steam can help clear your head when you have a cold. Eucalyptus essential oil is the hero here. It’s a natural decongestant that helps break down mucus and open up air passages.

  • Fill a large glass or ceramic bowl with 4-6 cups of steaming (not boiling) water. 
  • Add one drop of eucalyptus oil to the bowl.
  • Cover your head with a towel and close your eyes to avoid getting the vapor in them.
  • Take deep breaths for about 10 minutes.
  • Try this once a day until symptoms subside.

Although essential oils are derived from natural ingredients (and have some credible science behind them), it’s important to do your research or talk with your doctor before using them.

Use an aromatherapy inhaler to suppress a cough

Aromatherapy inhalers are an easy, portable way to breathe in essential oils. (These are not the same thing as essential oil vapes or prescription inhalers for asthma). They are small plastic tubes that contain replaceable cotton wicks (about the size of a lipstick tube). Add a blend of essential oils to the inhaler, hold up to your nose and you may find yourself breathing easier. Peppermint, for example, contains menthol, which acts as a natural cough suppressant.

  • Add two drops each of peppermint, eucalyptus, and Siberian fir to a blank inhaler.
  • Put the inhaler just inside your nostril and inhale deeply no more than once in each nostril per use.

Jump in the shower with a few drops

It’s not as convenient as a steamy bowl, but adding a few drops of essential oil to a hot shower can help clear congestion. Once again, eucalyptus is a standout when it comes to easing the stuffy-head blues. 

  • Place a drop or two of eucalyptus on the tile behind the shower — this helps keep it from washing off the wall too soon.
  • Simply breathe in the hot, steamy air of the shower.

Tips for essential oil use

Although essential oils are derived from natural ingredients (and have some credible science behind them), it’s important to do your research or talk with your doctor before using them. After all, you wouldn’t take a new prescription or over-the-counter drug without reading the label first.

If you’re new to the essential oil world, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Look for quality products. Oils can sometimes contain unsafe additives. Check with an expert in aromatherapy and essential oils to learn which brands are safe and reputable.
  • Don’t swallow essential oils. Because the body absorbs more oil when it’s taken by mouth, health problems may result.
  • Protect your kids. Stay on the safe side and don’t let teens or younger kids use essential oils unsupervised, and talk with your family doctor before diffusing oils in your home.
  • Protect your pregnancy. If you’re pregnant, even putting oils on your skin can affect an unborn baby. It’s best to skip these oils altogether when you’re expecting.

Essential oils to the rescue?

Essential oils may work to fight cold symptoms like congestion and cough. But there’s only one way to prove it to yourself: Do your research, consult an expert and then (safely!) give them a try.

Looking for more information about essential oils and other ways to fight or prevent colds? Talk with a doctor about resources. You can also find a Providence provider by using our provider directory. Or, you can search for a primary care doctor in your area.






Are you thinking about trying #EssentialOils? Share tips with other #ProvidenceWomensHealth readers @psjh. 


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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Body & Mind Team is dedicated to providing medically-sound, data-backed insights and advice on how to reach and maintain your optimal health through a mixture of exercise, mindfulness, preventative care and healthy living in general.

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