Before you pull out that diffuser, here’s everything you need to know.
Dr. Neha Solanki, MD, is a pulmonologist at the Cleveland Clinic Asthma Center. She looked over this article from a medical point of view. You can find essential oils everywhere. People use essential oils like peppermint, lavender, lemon, rosemary, and tea tree to help with stress, anxiety, and even long-term pain. Someone you know or someone they know may have even asked you to buy some. People who love their favorite oils swear by them, saying that they help them feel calmer or more energized, or that they keep them from getting sick from the latest virus going around. But how useful could these strongly scented oils be for helping your lungs stay healthy? Experts say the role isn’t that big, so maybe not. Here’s what you need to know to decide if essential oils are good for your lungs or not.
Does breathing in essential oils help your lungs?
Dr. Russell Buhr, MD, assistant clinical professor of medicine in the division of pulmonary and critical care at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA in California, says that there isn’t enough evidence to support using them regularly to improve lung health. Dr. David Beuther, MD, a pulmonologist at Denver, Colorado’s National Jewish Health, agrees: “They don’t seem to have much of a therapeutic benefit, so they won’t help you.”
But if you don’t already have lung problems, the oil diffuser in your living room or a few drops of oil on your skin shouldn’t worry you too much. Unless you have allergies, using an essential oil on your skin probably won’t put you at risk for anything. So, if the smell of lavender in the air helps you relax and unwind, and you don’t have any other problems, Dr. Buhr says it’s probably fine for your lungs to use essential oils. But wait! Read this if you already have a lung disease like asthma. But if you have a lung problem, please wait. People with lung diseases like asthma or COPD should be more careful about using essential oils, according to lung health experts (COPD). Melanie Carver, vice president of community health services at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, says that there is no proof that essential oils can help asthma. She says, “In fact, breathing in the particles released by the oils may cause inflammation of the airways and asthma symptoms.” “The strong smells that essential oils give off may come from VOCs, which are volatile organic compounds. VOCs are chemical gases that make the air quality worse and can cause lung irritation.
“Specifically, diffused eucalyptus and lavender release terpene, toluene, and benzene,” says Dr. Neha Solanki, MD, a pulmonologist at the Cleveland Clinic Asthma Center in Ohio. We know that these chemicals have effects on the lungs. Terpene, for example, can cause shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and wheezing.”According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fragrance is a common asthma trigger, along with tobacco smoke, smoke from burning wood or plants, mold, pets, dust mites, and air pollution.So, if you have asthma, breathing in one of those oils that has been warmed up and spread through the air could accidentally set off an asthma attack.
Think about how there aren’t any rules about essential oils
Doctors often say that the lack of rules is another reason why you should be careful when using essential oils for your lungs or in general. “The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t control most of these products, so there’s no way to know if what’s in the bottle is what they say it is,” says Dr. Buhr. You might get an oil that is very diluted or one that is much more concentrated, and it’s hard to tell. You might not be able to get the same amount of oil with the same concentration every time.
Dr. Solanki says that’s a big difference from the medicines your pulmonologist will give you. “The FDA backs the medicines that doctors use to treat asthma,” she says. “This means that there are a lot of clinical trials that have shown that the medicines doctors prescribe are safe and effective.” Don’t think “instead of,” think “in addition to.” But maybe you have asthma and have found that diffusing an essential oil in your home makes you feel better. Most experts agree that stress and anxiety can make long-term health problems like asthma and COPD worse. Dr. Beuther says that some small studies have shown that reducing stress can help people get a better handle on their asthma. Using an essential oil could help relieve some of your stress, making you feel more relaxed. So, in turn, you feel like you can breathe better. But, he said, the oils don’t treat the cause of the problem like your regular medicines do. But some doctors may let you use essential oils at home as long as you keep taking your regular medicines. Also, don’t forget your inhaler at home. Don’t give up one of your prescribed medicines in favor of a treatment with essential oils. Your doctor may give you the go-ahead to use essential oils as a supplement if you don’t have any bad side effects, as long as you don’t stop taking your prescribed medicines and start taking the oils instead. Not instead of, but in addition to. Carver suggests that if you want to try complementary therapies, you might try things like meditation and breathing techniques that help you focus on the present moment.
Could the facts about essential oils and the lungs change?
For now, doctors say that people with lung health problems should either stay away from essential oils or use them very carefully. This is because there isn’t enough evidence to show that essential oils are good for lung health. But could a new study make a difference? Perhaps. Dr. Buhr says, “There may be some research that is still in its early stages that could still have some benefits.” But wait. He says that in these “early phases,” research is usually done with petri dishes or animals, not with people. “There’s definitely a place for more research into the use of plants as treatments,” he says, “but that doesn’t mean they’re ready for prime time with the treatments we have now.” Bottom line: if you have a lung disease or condition, you should be careful about using essential oils. Before you start using anything new, like an essential oil or herbal supplement, talk to your doctor. And don’t stop taking any of the medicines your doctor has given you without first talking to him or her. If you’re worried about a side effect of your current medication, your doctor may be able to find a different one that might be better for you.