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We all know COVID-19 symptoms often include congestion, cough and difficulty breathing.  In late March, I woke up with severe sinus congestion, heavy chest and breathing. My thoughts went straight to coronavirus. 

A few years ago, I moved to a dry climate. Over time, I unexpectedly started experiencing my first signs of allergies and sinusitis.  Working with traditional and alternative health practitioners, I learned about natural treatments for relief and prevention. These included essential oils.  So, in March I reached for my essential oils to boost my immune system and alleviate my cough and congestion. I added essential oils that provide antiviral, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory healing support. In a day or two, my symptoms went away. I was grateful and relieved. Essential oils have helped me numerous times to alleviate symptoms from sinus congestion, colds and flu, allergies and viruses, headaches, stress and anxiety, sleeplessness, and more.

Although every person’s body is different, I’ve shared my practices with adult friends and family members who have or are experiencing virus or flu-like conditions. Many report they found the essential oils helpful in relieving their symptoms and boosting their body’s immune response.   

Benefits of Essential Oils

Essential oils can be an effective weapon in your wellness arsenal. They are chemically active aromatic compounds extracted from plants grown around the world.  For centuries, essential oils have been used to scent, disinfect and heal. They are used in many products ranging from medicine to household cleaners, perfumes and candles.  

When looking for a natural remedy, essential oils are often used to support both physical and emotional health. They can be a natural alternative to synthetic medications that cause side effects, may interact with other prescription medications, or aren’t recommended for people with multiple conditions such as high blood pressure. At the same time, essential oils can relax the body, calm the mind, fortify immunity, and help ease the symptoms of seasonal illnesses. 

Powerful compounds in essential oils originally served as protection for the plants they come from. They have similar effects on us. The practice of using essential oils to relieve symptoms related to a health condition is called complementary alternative therapy.  Although practiced for centuries in numerous cultures, they are considered non-traditional medical treatments in some countries. 

Essential Oils for Immune Support

Many essential oils work directly to bolster the immune response or eradicate bacteria and viruses that can make us sick. They accomplish these tasks thanks to their immune strengthening properties:

  • Antibacterial
  • Antiviral
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antifungal
  • Antiseptic

There are additional ways essential oils can indirectly help us maintain wellness. For instance, lavender can improve sleep, a critical factor in a strong immune system.  Jasmine can help alleviate stress and anxiety.  Studies show ongoing stress can undermine immunity and leave us vulnerable to everyday illnesses and chronic diseases. 

9 Essential oils to build the immune system, relieve congestion or a cough

  1. Eucalyptus Essential Oil  Eucalyptus essential oil is often used in over-the-counter cold and flu remedies to loosen phlegm and relieve congestion. The secret to its effectiveness is a compound called 1,8-cineole, which has powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. It is recognized for its ability to treat coughs and associated respiratory ailments like bronchitis and sinusitis. It also has immune enhancing effects, influencing the body’s ability to deal with bacteria. One study in the Clinical Microbiology & Infection journal demonstrated that eucalyptus essential oil had antibacterial effects on a variety of infectious bacteria in the upper respiratory tract. Research also reports that inhaling eucalyptus oil fights bacteria that causes tuberculosis.
  2. Tea Tree Essential Oil   Tea tree essential oil may improve sinus congestion by fighting bacteria and viruses.  A 2015 review notes that a compound in tea tree essential oil named alpha-sabine provides antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal effects. Tea tree essential oil may also reduce inflammation, and relieve congestion by bringing down sinus swelling.
  3. Clove Essential Oil   Clove essential oil has anti-microbial, antifungal, antiviral, antiseptic and stimulating properties.  It is used to help kill bacteria and to relieve respiratory conditions. Clove essential oil can clear nasal passages and give respite from respiratory infections, asthma cough, pneumonia and flu, while having a cooling effect on nasal cavity and throat. Clove oil is also a rich source of antioxidants to boost immunity.
  4. Cinnamon Essential Oil   Cinnamon essential oil has a history of helping with bronchitis. It can be useful for stopping respiratory tract pathogens and act against common bacteria reproducing. Cinnamon essential oil is also helpful in relieving coughing, plus clearing phlegm and other irritants from the throat and airways.
  5. Oregano Essential Oil   Oregano essential oil is a powerful antibacterial. Studies suggest high levels of the active compounds carvacrol and thymol kill bacteria by making cell membranes more permeable. In addition to helping eradicate harmful bacteria, researchers found oregano essential oil inhibits a variety of viruses including some respiratory viruses. Its strong antioxidant properties are also immune stimulating.
  6. Lavender Essential Oil   Lavender essential oil can help bronchial asthma by aiding in opening the airways. At the same time it can improve sinus congestions by reducing pain and swelling. A 2015 animal study suggested it may have analgesic, or pain-relieving effects and may also reduce inflammation.  Lavender essential oil has calming properties for some people, making them feel more relaxed and able to sleep.
  7. Thyme Essential Oil    Thyme essential oil is rich in thymol, which can help reduce a cough that accompanies upper respiratory tract infections. Thyme essential oil also produces antimicrobial and immune activity at a high level.
  8. Rosemary Essential Oil   Rosemary essential oil is another anti-inflammatory oil that may relieve swollen sinuses. It also helps treatment of asthma and can calm muscles in the trachea and provide respiratory relief. Rosemary essential oil is also a rich source of antioxidants, and may help manage metabolic syndrome.
  9. Frankincense Essential Oil    Frankincense essential oil has been known for its highly effective inflammation fighting properties. Derived from the boswellia tree, its most powerful healing component is acetyl-11-keo-B-boswellic acid. Science has found a link between its ability to lower inflammation and enhance the immune system. Used topically, frankincense essential oil reduces inflammation, kickstarts the immune response, and fosters tissue remodeling for faster healing.

How To Use Essential Oils 

Ready to add essential oils to your health and wellness toolbox?  Essential oils can be dispensed in a variety of ways. In using essential oils to relieve congestion, cough, and improve breathing, the most frequently recommended method is to dilute the essential oils and then breathe them in. 

I have found the most effective method for inhaling to be steam inhalation. Adding essential oils into hot water creates a therapeutic steam that when breathed in, can have real benefits. The Natural Association of Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) provides the following directions:

  1. Add 3-7 drops of essential oil (or 2-3 drops each when using multiple essential oils) to boiling water in a large pot or heatproof bowl. 
  2. With your head over the pot, cover your head with a towel to create a steam chamber.
  3. Keep your eyes closed to prevent eye irritation.
  4. Breathe the steam in through your nose for up to two minutes at a time. 
  5. Take breaks as needed and continue to breathe in steam for five minutes once a day for prevention.  
  6. When healing existing symptoms, repeat several times during the day. 

There are a number of additional methods for using essential oils. 

Because essential oils are highly concentrated, you need to dilute them using a carrier oil or adding them to water, depending on the application. Like essential oils, carrier oils are also made from plants. By diluting essential oils, they safely “carry” them to your skin without irritation. Most carrier oils are unscented or lightly scented, and don’t interfere with essential oils’ therapeutic properties. They can be used alone or combined with other oils to nourish your body.

Popular ones include: 

The usual recipe is to use 3-5 drops of essential oil for every ounce of carrier oil.

Additional common methods for using essential oils are: 

  • Utilize an aromatherapy diffuser. https://www.amazon.com/s?k=inogear+aromatherapy+diffuser&ref=nb_sb_noss_2 or spray bottle to disperse oils in the air and inhale continuously
  • Add oils to the water in a humidifier.
  • Mix them with a carrier oil to apply to the skin. Do not apply directly on the skin.
  • Mix them with a carrier oil, and add to bathwater. Inhale the steam while soaking.
  • Mix them into a carrier massage oil or lotion for use on the body. 
  • Add them to a neti pot. https://www.amazon.com/SinuCleanse-Nasal-System-Plastic-Packets/dp/B000TFR6MG/ref=sr_1_5?dchild=1&keywords=neti+pot&qid=1588197704&sr=8-5 or nasal spray to flush out nasal mucus.
  • Put drops of oil on a warm compress on the forehead. 

Risks and Tips

  • Use them with care. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not oversee the production of essential oil products, so quality and contents can vary.  There are no specific medically endorsed dosages for essential oils. Discuss your use with a healthcare practitioner to ensure they do not interfere with health conditions or medications you are taking. 
  • Dilute when using.  Do not apply directly to the skin. Pure essential oils are potent. Undiluted use on the body can cause irritation, itchiness, rash or burns. 
  • Do not inhale directly from the bottle, an inhaler tube, a cotton ball, or a cloth. Essential oils’ strong compounds may cause side effects or an allergic reaction to specific individuals. You can test for an allergic reaction by applying a few drops of diluted oil to the skin. If there is no reaction in 24 hours, it should be safe to use.
  • Don’t take orally without the guidance of a qualified healthcare practitioner.  Some essential oils are poisonous or can have contraindications. A practitioner can advise you regarding the safest and most effective use of essential oils for your specific symptoms.
  • When using in the air, children, pets and other family members also inhale the treatment. Do not use in public, such as in an office or store, as other people may have allergies to them.
  • Buy organic and 100% pure. Organic and pure oils are often superior to non-organic since they are free from pesticides and residues. 
  • Read the ingredients. Prices typically reflect the level of quality and purity. Know what you’re buying.
  • Most are not recommended for use by children or pregnant women.  The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians state that people should not use essential oils with babies younger than 3 months. Eucalyptus and peppermint should not be used around children under 3 years old. If necessary, before using essential oils ask a doctor which oils have been proven to be safe for infants, children, and pregnant and breastfeeding women. 
  • Never delay medical treatment if your cough, congestion, or breathing conditions are severe or you have other associated symptoms. Essential oils may give you relief at home, but more serious or persistent symptoms will require a medial review and diagnosis. 

The bottom line

People have used essential oils as an alternative remedy for hundreds of years. They are a complementary or alternative therapy that can provide great benefits. As there are no approved guidelines about dosage or strengths, use them responsibly.

When properly used, essential oils are safe and effective tools for managing some symptoms of COVID-19, boosting your immune system, and even coping with stress, anxiety and insomnia. Consider adding them to your health and wellness routine to help heal and prevent illness now and throughout the year. And remember, the best way to stay well is to be positive, eat healthy foods, exercise, stay hydrated, and wash your hands often! 

Susan Rosenthal - Modern Aging

Susan is Co-CEO and Chief Operations Officer of Modern Aging. She is a businesswoman, author and coach with a mission to build global communities, eliminate stereotypes and inspire people to live authentically and fulfilled.

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