Aromatherapy is probably one of the most popular forms of alternative treatments, to provide relief for a wide variety of conditions, from varicose veins to dental problems. Allergies is another condition which aromatherapists claim they can treat with a long list of different essential oils, but actually medical research is limited and only a few examples have been tested for this particular condition. Here we review current knowledge about these oils’ mechanism of action.
What is an essential oil?
An essential oil is the result of extracting the aromatic compounds of a certain plant, giving it a particular aroma and chemical characteristics. These oils are usually distilled from plant matter and can involve specific chemical (e.g. treatment with alcohol) or physical (e.g. cold-press) treatments.
What allergies can be treated with an essential oil?
This type of treatment is ideal to alleviate respiratory symptoms caused by allergies, including allergic rhinitis, hay fever, sinus inflammation, blocked and runny nose, itchy eyes, constant sneezing or even asthma. With more limitations, because they can themselves become the cause of allergies, essential oils can also provide some relief to skin conditions.
How can essential oils alleviate the symptoms of allergies?
Essential oils have antihistaminic properties
It has been demonstrated in laboratory studies that some essential oils possess antihistaminic properties and can alleviate allergy symptoms in similar ways to over-the-counter drugs. One example of an essential oil commonly used for these conditions is lavender. This oil has been shown to inhibit mast cell proliferation and histamine release (which occur as a part of the body’s response to allergens). With a similar mechanism, essential oils obtained from peppermint, tumeric and peperina can also provide very effective antihistamine treatments.
Essential oils can relieve nasal congestion
One of the most popular essential oils to provide some relief to nasal congestion is peppermint. It causes vasoconstriction in the nose improving air flow and soothing the pain and discomfort caused by this condition. Due to their skin regenerative properties, frankincense, rosemary and lavender essential oils are also effective at relieving blocked noses with a very quick effect.
Recently, researchers have proposed a nasal spray containing artemisia oil to alleviate upper airway disorders caused by allergies. This product has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, expectorant, spasmolytic, antiseptic and anti-microbial properties. None of the pathological changes in the nose mucosa which are associated with allergic rhinitis, such as infiltration of mast cells, were observed in the treated group. These initial studies have been conducted in animals, but they show promise for future use to treat allergic conditions.
Essential oils have broncho-dilating properties
Also a very popular choice to provide relief for allergic rhinitis is blue pansy. This essential oil has broncho-dilating properties, in addition to antihistamine and anti-inflammatory activity. It can also provide some relief to swelling and itching caused by this condition. For many aromatherapists, is the natural choice to combat the symptoms caused by allergic rhinitis. Some suggest that mixing it with lemongrass essential oil only stimulates its efficacy.
Essential oils can reduce stress
Instead of attacking the symptoms, a different way to alleviate allergic conditions is by reducing stress, which will in turn reduce the sensitivity of mast cells. A large variety of essential oils is available to achieve this, including lavender, Roman chamomile, neroli, petitgrain and patchouli. It’s believed that these oils work by decreasing the release of norepinephrine and have anxiolytic properties.
Essential oils have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
Many essential oils possess anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and antioxidant properties. To achieve some relief for allergic conditions, it’s been shown that the most powerful antioxidants include peppermint, clove, holy basil, oregano, thyme and cinnamon. In terms of strong anti-inflammatory activity, German chamomile, Roman chamomile and wintergreen are the best options, with the benefit of also being analgesics and relaxants.
Essential oils can provide adrenal support
A third way of combating allergy symptoms is by maintaining regular metabolism in the adrenal gland. This gland controls the body’s anti-inflammatory response by secreting cortisol. Unfortunately, constant exposure to allergens causes this gland to operate below optimal conditions which is reflected in a lower production of cortisol and a poorer anti-inflammation response. The best essential oil to support the adrenal gland is holy basil.
Essential oils can provide some relief to skin conditions
Some essential oils can be used to alleviate symptoms related to skin conditions. A common problem, which can be very sore and itchy, are bug bites. Due to their pain-relief properties, a drop of lavender, lemongrass or peppermint is ideal to use until the inflammation disappears. In fact, most aromatherapists would recommend lavender essential oil for any allergic skin condition. If you have sensitive skin, dilute with olive or coconut oil.
Other uses for essential oils to alleviate symptoms of allergic reactions
An interesting use of eucalyptus essential oil is to use a few drops to wash children’s soft toys. It was shown that it significantly reduces dust mites and other allergens, thus reducing the risk of childhood allergies. Furthermore, pine and red cedar essential oils can be used against airborne allergens, such as mould and dust mites. These essential oils have been very successful in combating “Sick building Syndrome”, where excessive accumulation of allergens can trigger headaches, blocked nose and watery eyes.
How to use essential oils to alleviate the symptoms of allergies?
• Inhalation: It’s possible to either use a diffuser or directly inhale your chose essential oil.
• Steam inhalation: Add a few drops of essential oils to steaming water and inhale the steam. Ideal to relieve congested nose.
• Direct application: An alternative application involves rubbing the oil over the affected area. Ideal to provide some relief for bug bites.
• Dietary ingestion: In some cases, capsules are available to be used internally.
• Humidifier: Add a few drops to the water in your humidifier. Ideal to prevent airborne allergens.
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