When you’re suffering from a bad cold, there’s no shortage of advice from family and friends.
However, as just about everyone knows, there’s no actual cure for common colds. They’re caused by viral infections, so antibiotics don’t help. Over-the-counter pain relievers and cold medicines can help ease symptoms, but they don’t make the cold go away any faster. A couple of your friends’ and family’s suggestions like chicken soup and rest may help a little.
But primarily, all modern medicine can tell you is to take it easy, stay hydrated, and do what you can to ease symptoms like sore throats, coughs, stuffy noses and clogged nasal passages, until you feel better.
Most alternative medicine therapies can’t do much to cure your cold either, but relieving the symptoms is another story. In particular, aromatherapy has been shown to be surprisingly effective at easing much of the pain and discomfort caused by severe or nagging colds.
There’s some evidence that a few essential oils, such as tea tree oil and eucalyptus oil, not only have antibacterial properties, but antiviral properties as well — which would make them possible treatments for common colds.
Want to learn more about which essential oils can help put your immune system back on a healthy track? We’ve created a list of the eight best essential oils for colds. For those unfamiliar with the immensely popular world of essential oils, we’ve also provided a quick recap on how to use them.
The 8 Best Essential Oils for Colds and Flus
Here are eight of the best essential oils you can use to alleviate cold and flu-like symptoms.
Eucalyptus Essential Oil
Most experts believe eucalyptus oil is most effective for colds because of its key ingredient, eucalyptol. Eucalyptol has antimicrobial properties that can help fight bacteria; it’s also an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever. The menthol in eucalyptus can help ease both sinus congestion and chest congestion by acting as an expectorant. Eucalyptus, by the way, is the same ingredient contained in many over-the-counter chest rubs used to treat coughs.
Peppermint Essential Oil
This is an excellent choice for treating respiratory system issues, since peppermint oil also contains menthol that can numb or ease sore throats while acting as a decongestant. Peppermint can also relax the windpipe’s bronchial muscles to prevent coughing and breathing difficulties.
Tea Tree Essential Oil
Tea tree oils and extracts have been shown to have strong therapeutic benefits due to their antiviral, antimicrobial and antibacterial powers. When inhaled, tea tree essential oils can break up congestion and help sore throats. They can also help heal cold sores when diluted and applied topically with cotton balls.
Lavender Essential Oil
The medicinal benefits of lavender oils are almost too many to mention. When it comes to cold symptoms, two of lavender oil’s most important properties are its ability to boost the immune system and to loosen the phlegm that causes breathing issues and coughs.
Rosemary Essential Oil
Rosemary is another decongestant with antibacterial properties that help the immune system. Other similar herbal oils, like oregano and thyme essential oils, are antimicrobials and antifungals as well. They contain a substance called carvacrol that can protect against both viruses and bacteria.
Lemon Essential Oil
Lemon oils are not only suggested for colds, but they’re one of the choices recommended for flu symptoms due to antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that ease coughs and congestion, body aches and swollen glands. Diluted lemon oil is also an excellent ingredient for a gargle when you’re suffering from a cold or the flu.
Chamomile Essential Oil
Another tried and true natural remedy to quell your cold symptoms is chamomile oil. A 1990 study determined that inhaling steam with chamomile extract could alleviate the symptoms that accompany the common cold. Chamomile oil has also demonstrated value as an anti-inflammatory while also providing a calming effect.
Cinnamon Essential Oil
Cinnamon oils have also showcased antiviral activity in several different studies. For example, a 2014 study published in the American Journal of Essential Oils and Natural Products found that an essential oil blend including cinnamon oil completely inactivated the influenza virus. Cinnamon oil also offers a potent punch of antifungal and antioxidant properties that can strengthen the immune system.
Essential Facts About Essential Oils
If you’re new to essential oils, here’s what you need to know.
Essential oils are extracted from plants. As their name implies, they contain the essence of the plants’ beneficial and medicinal properties.
Just as not all plants are good for your health (when was the last time you ate a poison ivy salad?), not all essential oils are good for your body. But in the same way that spinach and carrots are good for you, many essential oils distilled from plants can provide major health benefits without the side effects of prescription medications.
It takes a lot of work to extract essential oils, which are heavily concentrated and sometimes expensive. However, they contain much more medicinal power than the extracts created by soaking the plant in a solvent or cold-pressing it.
Because the oils are so strong, they have to be diluted before use. The ratio should be a few drops of essential oils for each ounce of carrier oils like sweet almond or coconut oil. They normally cannot be used undiluted.
All essential oils have different properties, so they’re not a “one-size-fits-all treatment.” It’s important to consider the symptoms you’re trying to relieve and then choose the best essential oils (or oil blends) to treat that problem. An experienced aromatherapist can be invaluable in suggesting the right oils or combination for your cold.
There are several different ways essential oils can be administered.
Aromatherapy Diffusers or Vaporizers
Aromatherapy diffusers spread the essential oils into the air to be inhaled. These items can be nebulizers, ultrasonic, evaporative or heat-driven. A diffuser is a device that disperses essential oils, filling a closed area or room with the oil’s natural fragrance.
Drops of essential oil are placed into boiling water, and the head is covered by a towel or “tent” above the container so the vapors can be inhaled.
A less-effective but calming aromatherapy method is to put a few drops of essential oil into a warm bath.
A few drops of diluted essential oil can be applied directly to the affected area to treat some pains and illnesses. However, for the common cold, using a diffuser or the steam inhalation technique may be more effective.
Diffusers and vaporizers are the most common, but once again, an aromatherapist can provide the best advice on essential oil administration for your particular symptoms.
A Little Extra Advice for Your Next Cold
Other essential oils you can drop in your diffuser or bathtub to treat cold symptoms include sandalwood, lemongrass, frankincense and chamomile.
None of these essential oils have been proven as a preventative. Nonetheless, many aromatherapists suggest that prophylactic use of eucalyptus, tea tree, and thyme oil during the flu season — as your grandmother might say — can only help.
One added benefit: many of these oils have disinfectant properties, so they’re also perfect for cleaning up the mess remaining after you’ve recovered from your cold.
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