How essential oils can help to ease your seasonal allergy, asthma symptoms

By Chaffin Mitchell, AccuWeather staff writer

Essential oils have been rising in popularity as they are touted for helping to alleviate many ailments, including allergies and asthma.

If you have ever opened an orange, smelled a rose or spent any time around fir trees, you have experienced an essential oil. Each oil is actually a natural blend of chemicals the plant produces to communicate with its environment and for defense.

"These naturally occurring substances have been used by mankind for countless generations. The ancient Egyptians, Chinese and Indians all used essential oils in a variety of ways," said Jason McDonald, co-founder and vice president of

Essential oils can be a great method of easing the pain and suffering from seasonal allergies and asthma, according to experts.

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"Essential oils are the natural basis for what many of our synthetic medications today are derived. The best example of this is oil of wintergreen or methyl salicylate. Today better known as - Aspirin," said Dr. Stephanie Davis, fellow of the American College of Osteopathic Emergency Physicians.

Davis said in the very last few decades the medical community turned to synthetic, man-made medications before natural occurring remedies.

"I know and obviously understand the benefits and definite need for Western medicine. However, there are also many, many opportunities to use more natural options for symptomatic relief from ailments, and often with fewer side effects," Davis said.


(Image via Dr. Stephanie Davis)

"Essential oils do not cure anything. They do help with symptomatic relief of many, many, many different conditions. The list and options of essential oils usages is as extensive as many of my medical textbooks," Davis said.

Essential oils are an option for those who suffer from allergies or airway irritation associated with asthma. According to McDonald, many oils have been demonstrated to calm the nervous system directly, which relates to the experience of seasonal or chronic breathing symptoms that many people face.

Studies have shown that pure, therapeutic grade essential oils such as peppermint and lavender reduce inflammatory responses in the body, specifically related to breathing difficulties. Essential oils like melaleuca, also known as tea tree, have been shown to exhibit anti-microbial activity as well.

"There have been many studies to show the efficacy of essential oils. For example, in a study in BMC Immunology 2008, they had data demonstrating that eucalyptus essential oil is able to implement the innate cell-mediated immune response, as well as antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties," Davis said.

That means eucalyptus oil has been shown in studies to boost our immune system and decrease inflammation, thus helping to relieve symptoms associated with seasonal allergies.

Similarly, asthma is a reaction in the airways to irritants. By decreasing the irritants in the air or decreasing our immunological response to those irritants, you can decrease the symptoms associated with asthma exacerbation.

Lemon essential oil is another great option for symptomatic relief.

Essential oil graphic

Inhalation or diffusion is a quick and safe way of letting the essential oils go to work for you. You can use either a diffuser or direct inhalation. Diffusion works by distributing essential oil molecules through the air.

"Once in the air, they are inhaled and come into contact with nerves that send them directly to the brain. This is a quick and safe way of letting the essential oils go to work for you," Davis said.

Diffusing or inhaling essential oils as a fine vapor allows them to be absorbed gently into the body through the mucous membranes. This can allow them to work locally in the respiratory system or to be absorbed into the blood stream for a more systemic approach.

"The aroma also can prompt the nervous system to transmit signals to the limbic system in the brain – the same part of the brain that houses emotion and memory," Davis said.

The brain may respond by initiating various physiological functions, such as a release of hormones, relief from pain or a positive boost in mood, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

These signals cause the brain to release neurotransmitters, also known as messengers, like serotonin, endorphins and more, to link our nervous and other body systems assuring a desired change and to provide a feeling of relief.

Oils used for aromatherapy treatment

Aromatherapy treatment at beauty salon. (botamochi/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

According to McDonald, the first step is to choose a high quality source that guarantees purity through control of harvesting, distillation and batch-level quality testing to be sure you can rely on the product. Another critical element is to apply it in an effective, consistent way.

Davis cautions that many individuals who have tried oils may not have tried the best quality. One key aspect is to ensure it is a highly concentrated pure essential oil and not merely an aromatic oil.

"Many may not find relief of their symptoms because of the quality of the oil they are using. Much as we prefer the 'stronger antibiotic,' essential oils are similar," McDonald said.

Be sure that you know the oils you are using, as well as their purity and quality.

Experts caution that essential oils won't work miracles after a one-time use; just as with other methods, people might use to support their health, usually multiple applications on a regular schedule are needed to get the full benefit.

According to Davis, the essential oil from lavender works as a natural antihistamine and will help to reduce inflammatory allergic reactions in your body.

"Lavender also has anti-inflammatory properties that make it an ideal essential oil to help with relief of the symptoms of asthma," Davis said.

"Lemon and citrus oils contains phenolics and flavonoids and ascorbic acid which have been shown to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, both of which make it a great option," Davis said.

If you have pets, be cautious when using essential oils as they may pose hazards to cats and dogs. Consult with a veterinarian if you have any questions about essential oil use.

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