Essential Oils for Asthma - A Natural Treatment That Makes Sense?

by Kathi MacNaughton Health Professional

Can essential oils be an effective treatment for asthma?

Getting the right asthma treatment is essential to living a quality life despite having this chronic illness. In fact, if asthma is NOT treated, there can be serious complications down the line. But many of us really don't enjoy being tied to a daily or twice daily inhaler, not to mention having to use a supplementary rescue inhaler if we exert too much or come into contact with one of our triggers.

And asthma treatment is also expensive, so if you don't have prescription coverage from health insurance, the costs can be hard to manage. Of course, the costs of not treating asthma are potentially even higher.

This is the reason why so many people who have asthma seek out more natural alternative treatments. I wrote about this a few years ago in my post on
Natural Alternatives to Traditional Asthma Treatment. Most so-called natural therapies are relatively low risk, but they also cannot usually substitute for traditional treatment. Think of them more as an add-on, or complementary.

Recently, I was introduced to the possible benefits of essential oils for asthma by someone passionate about the subject. This lady truly believes that essential oils have helped her lead a higher quality of life, despite severe seasonal allergies and asthma.

As a nurse, I have a certain skepticism about some of the claims she made while I met with her, but as a seeker and an asthma sufferer who hates taking medicine, I was also intrigued enough to do some deeper research... or at least to attempt to do so. Unfortunately, while there is a lot of information available, not much of it is what I would call credible.

But let's take a look at what we do know.

Facts About Essential Oils

Have you heard of aromatherapy? Well, that's basically what we're talking about. Essential oils are highly concentrated plant oils that come from
the aromatic compounds of a plant. They are extracted from the flowers, leaves, roots and other parts of certain plants.

The oils can be mixed with lotion or a carrier oil and applied to the skin or they can be inhaled, either directly or via a diffuser. In some cases, you might even mix them with water or milk and drink them. They are said to promote well-being and stimulate healing.

Unfortunately, there has not been a lot of credible scientific research done to prove whether or not essential oils are actually able to have positive effects that go beyond placebo. But there have been a few studies that suggest the following oils show promise in treating certain health issues:

  • Lemon oil (lifts mood, lessens stress)

  • Tea tree oil (helps heal a variety of skin conditions)

  • Lavender (good for anxiety & insomnia)

  • Rosemary (decrease stress, increase alertness)

  • Peppermint (headaches, nausea, irritable bowel syndrome)

Will Essential Oils Treat Asthma?

Most lay websites you'll find do claim that all sorts of different essential oils can help asthma, as did the lady who inspired this article. But what can you really believe?

Some of the oils I've been told will help asthma include:

  • Eucalyptus

  • Peppermint

  • Laurel

  • Lemon

  • Tea tree

  • Clary sage

These might be used individually or in some sort of blend. Some essential oil suppliers actually make proprietary blends targeted for asthma.

At this point, I'm not 100 percent convinced essential oils can be an effective treatment for asthma on their own. I couldn't find any studies that supported the use of essential oils for asthma specifically. But, if you use them with caution and as directed, they also shouldn't be harmful.

So, using them in addition to your traditional asthma inhalers and allergy medicines might be an enhancement and give you greater comfort. According to stories I've read, it might even reduce your frequency of use of your rescue inhaler.

Safety Is Key

However, it's important to practice safety and caution if you do decide to try using essential oils for asthma. Here are a few tips:

  • First off, be sure that the fragrance of an essential oil is not actually a trigger for your symptoms. Some people are very sensitive to strong odors.

  • Second, make sure you only buy therapeutic grade essential oils. These are essential oils that are safe to use on/in your body, as opposed to other uses.

  • If applying an oil on your skin, try one drop first to make sure you aren't sensitive to the oil. If you have any kind of reaction, you may want to avoid it altogether, but at the least, dilute it in a carrier oil next time.

  • Use very small amounts of an essential oil at a time. Be sure to consult guidelines or books or an expert to find out how/when to use an essential oil.

And, as with any new treatment, be sure to get your doctor's OK before starting it.

In Summary

I will be testing essential oils for my asthma and allergies over the next few months (in addition to my inhalers and asthma pills). I'll post back here about my experiences. I'd love to hear yours too, in the comments below.

And remember, if nothing else, your home will smell lovely from these oils

Kathi  MacNaughton
Meet Our Writer
Kathi MacNaughton

Kathi is an experienced consumer health education writer, with a prior career in nursing that spanned more than 30 years — much of it in the field of home health care. Over the past 15 years, she's been an avid contributor for a number of consumer health websites, specializing in asthma, allergy, and COPD. She writes not only as a healthcare professional, but also as a lifelong sufferer of severe allergies and mild asthma, and as a caregiver for her mother with COPD.