Useful Essential Oils
Which essential oils are effective in treating cold, cough and flu symptoms?
As explained in the video, if you have the flu, traditionally the following essential oils are used to try and kill as much of the virus as possible. These are:
- Thyme Thujanol (currently unavailable due to limited supplies).
- Eucalyptus Radiata – Diffuse for sore throats and colds, do a steam inhalation for a stuffy nose and mucus congestion, for bronchitis dilute 3-5% (15-25 drops per tablespoon) in jojoba or hazelnut oil and apply on the chest and back. Note: Poisonous if ingested, and even small amounts can be fatal. It can irritate the skin if not diluted enough. If well-diluted, it is safe to use with children over four, in reduced quantities.
- Ravintsara – To use this for flu, diffuse or inhale directly, dilute 2% in a carrier oil (10 drops per tablespoon) and do a whole body massage or dilute and use in an aromatic bath. Note: It can be a skin irritant if applied undiluted. Avoid during pregnancy.
- Tea Tree Oil – To use it for colds, cough, congestion, bronchitis or sinusitis, inhale directly or do a steam inhalation. To use it for the flu, diffuse it or inhale it directly or dilute 2% in a carrier oil (10 drops per tablespoon) and do a whole body massage or dilute and use in an aromatic bath. To use it for colds, inhale it directly or do a steam inhalation.
This video is by the founder of Amrita Aromatherapy and master aromatherapist Christoph Streicher, Ph.D.
Some essential oils and aromatherapy products which may be useful which were not mentioned in the video are shown below. You may also find this remedy useful for coughs and colds.
Note: It can cause sensitization reactions in some individuals.
These are said to be strong anti-viral oils.
For the flu, dilute Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis) 2% in a carrier oil (10 drops per tablespoon) and massage it into the lymph glands. For colds, you can diffuse it or do a steam inhalation with it. Note: Always dilute this and do not use it regularly on the skin for an extended period of time, or skin irritation and sensitization may occur. Avoid during pregnancy.
Bacterial Infections: When your respiratory system is chronically infected (more than 10-14 days), it is no longer a virus: bacteria has settled in. Eucalyptus has very little anti-bacterial effect.
You can use different thyme oils, but be careful as some of these are very aggressive:
- Thyme Linalol – This is very mild. To use it for bronchitis, catarrh, chills, colds, coughs, laryngitis, sinusitis or sore throat, inhale it directly using a nebulizer or do a steam inhalation. Note: Use in moderation and dilute before use.
- Thyme Thujanol (currently unavailable due to limited supplies) – This is very mild.
- Thyme Borneol (Thymus satureioides) – This is the most medicinal Thyme. To use it for bronchitis, catarrh, chills, colds, coughs, laryngitis, sinusitis or sore throat, inhale it directly using a nebulizer or do a steam inhalation. Note: Avoid during pregnancy and on sensitive skin. Use in moderation.
Prevention: In most cases, diffusing essential oils over several hours in the office or in the bedroom while sleeping should prevent all respiratory infections. Eucalyptus Radiata, unrectified Eucalyptus Globulus or Ravintsara are the best. Do not use industrially processed Eucalyptus, even though this is the most common Eucalyptus on the market. It does more harm than good.
Here are two formulas that bring these three plant remedies together to support and amplify each other:
- Golden Shield – Use it to support the immune system. Take 20-40 drops in a small amount of water 2-3 times per day, or as recommended by your healthcare provider. Note: Avoid if pregnant or breast feeding.
- Respiratory Health – Use it to support the respiratory organs. Take 30-50 drops in a small amount of water 3-6 times a day for 1-4 months, or as recommended by a health care practitioner. Note: Avoid if pregnant or breast feeding.
Essential Oil Synergies:
- Respiration – Use as a preventative measure. For congestion or blocked breathing, diffuse it or do a steam inhalation or dilute 2% in a carrier oil (10 drops per tablespoon) and place in each nostril. Steam Inhalation is particularly effective with this synergy.
- Invincible Immunity – This is the heavy duty bullet. To use it to prevent and treat colds, diffuse it or dilute it 2% in a carrier oil (10 drops per tablespoon) and do a whole body massage with it. To use it for congestion, do a steam inhalation. Note: Do not apply topically without dilution. Avoid use if you have epilepsy or are pregnant.
About the Condition
What is a cold?
The common cold (acute viral rhinopharyngitis, oracute coryza) is a viral infectious disease that infects the upper respiratory system.
It is your body’s reaction to the cold virus that contributes to most of the symptoms. When the viruses overpower your body's immune system, infection occurs. Mucus is produced in the nose and throat by the mucus glands as the body’s first line of defense. It traps anything inhaled, such as dust, viruses and bacteria. If the mucus is penetrated by the virus, the virus takes control of the element of the cell which makes protein. This allows it to manufacture more viruses, which then attack surrounding cells.
Common symptoms of a cold are:
- Dry throat
- Sore throat
- Mild fever
- Hoarse voice
- Blocked nose
- Mild headache.
In rare cases, people can also experience muscle aches, shivering, pink eye, weakness, reduced appetite and extreme exhaustion.
Around 25% of people don’t suffer any symptoms when they have the cold virus; perhaps because their immune system reacts differently to it. Sometimes, a cold can lead to bacteria infecting the ears or sinuses (a secondary bacterial infection). Unlike a cold, this can be treated with antibiotics.
A cold can lead to the following complications:
- Acute Bronchitis
- Acute Bacterial Sinusitis
- Otitis media
- Strep throat.
The Common Cold can exacerbate emphysema or chronic bronchitis symptoms. Asthma attacks can be caused by a cold, especially in children.
What is the flu?
It can be hard to tell if you have the flu or a bad cold. Flu symptoms are generally experienced sooner than cold symptoms and are more intense. The flu can make you feel weak and tired for up to two or three weeks. It can lead to fever and periods of chills and sweats (cold sweats), aching muscles, and a runny or clogged nose, headaches, a sore throat and coughing.
What a cough?
A cough is a sudden reflex to clear the throat and breathing passage of foreign particles, microbes, irritants, fluids and mucus. It involves is a rapid expulsion of air from the lungs. It can be done deliberately or involuntarily. Suppressing a natural reflex like coughing can be bad for you.
These are the classifications for coughs:
- Acute - this is a cough with a sudden onset that lasts up to 3 weeks.
- Subacute - this type of cough persists for between 3-8 weeks.
- Chronic - this type last for over 8 weeks.
- Productive - a cough that brings stuff up, such as sputum.
- Dry - a cough that brings nothing up.
- Nocturnal – one that only occurs at night.
What causes a cold?
The common cold is mainly caused by coronaviruses or rhinoviruses (responsible for up to 50% of colds). Other cold causing viruses are:
- Human parainfluenza virus
- Human respiratory syncytial virus
The body can never build up resistance to all the possible viruses (over 200) that can cause it. That’s why colds are so common and you can get them more than once a year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, younger children get more colds per year than adolescents and adults. The coldness of the weather doesn’t increase the risk of catching a cold or spreading one.
What causes the flu?
The flu (influenza) is caused by influenza virus types A, B, and C.
Type A and B viruses are responsible for most of the larger flu epidemics. Type C flu virus usually only causes milder respiratory symptoms. The flu vaccine can help protect you from type A and B flu viruses.
There are subtypes of the Type A flu virus based on the chemical structure of the virus. But the Type B flu virus isn’t divided into subtypes.
Type A flu viruses are found in many different animals whereas Influenza B viruses only circulate widely amongst humans.
What causes a cough?
Most coughs are caused by an upper respiratory tract infection (e.g. as a result of the flu, the common cold or laryngitis). Lower respiratory tract infections are less common. This is where the lungs are infected and/or the airways lower down from the throat (windpipe) (e.g. due to bronchitis and in rare cases, pneumonia).
What are conventional medical treatments for a cold?
There is no cure for the common cold and medical treatments only help with the symptoms. They don’t affect the virus which is causing the cold. Research has shown that antibiotics don’t cure a cold or speed up recovery.
Conventional treatments for symptoms include:
- Decongestants – these may help if you have nasal or sinus congestion. However, they can increase the heart rate and blood pressure and may cause anxiety, restlessness, insomnia and difficulty urinating in some people. Check with your doctor before using them if you have high blood pressure. They can be used alone or in combination with an antihistamine. But if you use nasal decongestants for more than three days in a row, you can end up more congested than you were to begin with. They are better taken during the day than at night time.
- Saline (salt water) sprays – these can work to loosen mucus. They work more slowly than nasal decongestants, but you can use them for an unlimited time period.
- Antihistamines – these may help if you have a runny nose or sneezing. Some contain diphenhydramine, which can make you extremely drowsy; however, non-sedating antihistamines are also available. Even so, you should be careful if operating heavy machinery or driving. There are side effects like dry mouth. They are better taken at night than during the day.
- Oral expectorants – these help to liquefy mucus, making it easier to cough it up.
For sore throats, drink lots of fluids and use salt water gargles (a cup of warm water and a teaspoon of salt). Other oral medications (such as Tylenol) and medicated lozenges and gargles can also temporarily soothe a sore throat. But if your throat is very painful and you have trouble swallowing and you also have a fever, see your doctor, as you may have strep throat.
Most doctors no longer recommend that you try to suppress a mild fever. This is because a fever helps your body fight infection. It is generally only necessary to treat fevers that are over 102 degrees or milder fevers when they are experienced by the very young, the very old, and those with certain medical conditions such as heart disease or lung disease.
People in their early 20s or younger should avoid taking aspirin. Acetaminophen (Tylenol and others) or ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) are better choices. Each medication has side effects. Be careful not to take them only as specified and to be aware that there can be cumulative effects if you are also taking other cough and cold and flu remedies. Ask your pharmacist to help you make the right choice.
What are conventional medical treatments for the flu?
Treatments for flu symptoms are similar to cold treatments. Antibiotics don’t help flu symptoms, because it’s caused by a virus, and antibiotics only treat bacterial infections.
What are conventional medical treatments for a cough?
Some doctors don’t think you should try to treat a cough. This is because coughs often serve a purpose (e.g. to help loosen thick mucus and to cough it up). Some don't believe cough medicines are that effective. There are three types of commonly used over-the-counter treatments for coughs and colds:
- Cough suppressants
- Oral expectorants
- Topical medications (e.g. lotions you rub on your chest).
There are also prescription cough medicines.
What are alternative treatments for colds?
It was thought that zinc may help cut a cold's severity and duration, but research has brought mixed results. Also, the FDA has advised that zinc nasal sprays have been linked to a permanent loss of smell, so the side effects may outweigh any possible benefits.
Studies on echinacea have also been mixed.
Recent research has found vitamin C only prevents colds in certain populations (e.g. people who were doing vigorous exercise in extreme environments). However, some research suggests megadoses of vitamin C may shorten how long you suffer from a cold.
In terms of preventing colds, experts say a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help you ward off infections like colds and flu by boosting your immune system.
Eating the recommended dietary allowance of antioxidant vitamins and minerals can also help.
Regular exercise can also boost the immune system. Some studies have shown that regular "moderate intensity" exercise cuts down the number of colds you get each year. People who exercise regularly can still catch a virus, but generally their symptoms are less severe and they may recover more quickly.
Exercising when you have a cold is usually safe as long as you listen to your body and don’t work out too hard. But be aware that if you are also taking decongestants, which can cause your heart to pump very hard, and then you exercise on top of that, you may become short of breath and have trouble breathing.
If you are also asthmatic, make sure you talk with your doctor before you exercise with a cold.
If you also have a fever, exercise could stress your body even more, so it’s best to wait till your fever goes down before you go out walking.
Also, see some of the tips under alternative treatments for the flu and for coughs as many may help with a cold as well.
Of course, essential oils traditionally have also been used for colds. For more information, see the Useful Essential Oils tab.
What are alternative treatments for the flu?
Even most doctors would agree that the following home remedies are often all you need to heal most bouts of the flu:
- Drink healthy drinks like water, juices and herbal teas, as the flu can leave you dehydrated, especially if have vomiting or diarrhea. Reduce caffeinated drinks, as they are diuretics (take water out of the body). If you feel nauseated, try sipping instead of gulping down fluids. If you’re drinking enough fluids, your urine should be pale yellow (almost colorless).
- Have soup: Even research has shown that soups can help with symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections like the flu.
- Rest if that is what your body is telling you it wants. But still try and maintain a normal nighttime 8-hour sleep routine.
- Steam helps: Bring a pot of water to a boil and take it off the stove and put a towel over your head and inhale the vapors. Some people recommend adding some turmeric. Or, you can add essential oils like eucalyptus (see the Useful Essential Oils tab for details).
- Gargling with salt water to get rid of the thick mucus that can collect at the back of the throat.
- Nasal irrigation can help ease stuffiness and post-nasal drip. Use a neti pot or a saline squeeze bottle. Use a pre-made saline solution or make it by mixing salt and lukewarm sterile or distilled water.
Of course, essential oils traditionally have also been used for the flu. For more information, see the Useful Essential Oils tab.
What are alternative treatments for a cough?
Sleep with your head elevated.
Use chest vapor-rubs with natural ingredients such as menthol, camphor and eucalyptus.
Research has shown that honey can be effective in treating coughs and sore throats. You can take it straight or boil some water, then let it cool a little and add lemon juice and then honey. Or mix one teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper with a mug of boiling water and let it cool a little and then add two tablespoons of honey. Steep it for 15 minutes, strain and drink it.
Thyme tea (two teaspoons of crushed thyme leaves in a cup of boiling water steeped for 10 minutes and then strained) can help.
Put 12 slices of fresh ginger in three cups of water and bring it to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes and remove from the heat. Once it has cooled a little, add honey and a squeeze of lemon to taste and drink it.
Also, see some of the tips under alternative treatments for the flu, as many may help with a cough as well.
Of course, essential oils traditionally have also been used for coughs. For more information, see the Useful Essential Oils tab.