Essential Oils for Coughs: How Well Do They Work? - Public Goods

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Essential Oils for Coughs: How Well Do They Work?

Are you looking for a natural remedy to help quell a sudden coughing fit? Try some essential oils to treat your cough.

woman covering her hands to cough
Credit for Cropped Photo: Sarah-Rose

That advice is necessary because when you catch a cold, doctors aren’t much help.

They’ll tell you that common colds are viral, not bacterial, so there’s nothing they can “give you.” Their “medical advice” will be to stay hydrated and rest, and perhaps gargle with salt water (for your throat) or taking ibuprofen (for your body aches). They may even tell you to feel free to try your family’s trusted natural remedies like ginger tea or a nice bowl of chicken soup. That’s because they believe nothing will help — or hurt.

And what about the annoying cough that comes with a cold? If there’s no serious underlying condition causing the cough, like the flu, a sinus infection or a bronchial infection, doctors aren’t much help there either. They suggest steam inhalation, or trying cough drops, honey or over-the-counter cough suppressants and decongestants that might not work well for you.

What they usually don’t suggest is aromatherapy with essential oils. But they should.

A Quick Course on Essential Oils and Health

You’ve probably heard the term “essential oils” in ads for skin care or cleaning products. You may even know that these oils are often used to make homes smell nice.

But unless you pay attention to natural medicine and alternative treatments, it’s less likely that you know how — well, essential — they can be for treating a wide range of physical problems from sore feet to yeast infections.

Many essential oils are also extremely effective against coughs.

This fact might be surprising at first, but the science behind it makes perfect sense. It’s widely accepted that plants are an important source of nutrients in our diet, and that they contribute key ingredients to medicines that treat disease. The oils contained in plants have health and wellness benefits as well, and can be an outstanding natural way to treat medical issues.

In fact, the essential oils distilled from certain plants are even more effective than the plants themselves. So are their extracts obtained through processes like cold-pressing. Essential oils are the strongest form of the beneficial ingredients contained in plants, produced in very small amounts. However, a little goes a long way, because of the oils’ strength and the need to dilute them before use with carrier oils such as jojoba or coconut oil.

Each type of essential oil has different properties (based on the plant it comes from), so it’s important to use the right oil to treat specific health conditions or symptoms. An aromatherapist is the best source of information or guidance.

Nonetheless, a number of common essential oils are known to help treat the symptoms of colds and coughs, and some even work as antibacterial or antiviral agents to battle illnesses. They can also be used to treat cold and flu symptoms, seasonal allergies, headaches and migraines, and even for weight loss.

We’ll list some of the essential oils best able to help alleviate coughs — after a quick look at the different ways to use them.

Methods for Administering Essential Oils

First, a warning. Essential oils are strong. Very strong. It’s quite rare that using them without first diluting them is advisable. A few drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier oil is the usual recommended ratio.

There are three basic ways to use essential oils for a cough.

1. Inhaling Them

A device known as a diffuser is the most common inhalation tool; an essential oil diffuser uses one of several methods to force the oils to evaporate into the air. An ultrasonic humidifier can also be used, as can dry evaporation (simply placing drops of essential oil onto cotton balls). For a stronger effect, the oil can be added to a bowl of boiling water to create steam, which is then directly inhaled from the “steam bowl” with a towel placed over the head to contain the beneficial steam.

2. Applying Them Topically 

A diluted carrier oil solution can be applied via a compress placed onto the skin or a gentle massage, or by adding drops of oil to warm water drawn for a bath.

3. Taking Them Internally 

This is not recommended without medical guidance; the most common method is to gargle with a mix of water and diluted essential oil — with the solution spit out, never swallowed.

More Options

Many essential oil blends are available commercially; they combine the benefits of several essential oils that work well together or whose performance is increased by the synergy between oils. It’s also possible to homebrew these blends.

That’s not the only do-it-yourself way to benefit from the power of essential oils. One of the most popular DIY formulations used to treat coughs and colds creates a vapor rub similar to the old Vicks VapoRub your mother or grandmother may have rubbed on your body.

This concoction calls for blending essential oils such as frankincense (Boswellia carterii), sweet marjoram, tea tree, cyprus, eucalyptus and thyme into lotion that can ease coughs and reduce mucus when used as a chest rub.

Why those specific essential oils? Read on.

Best Essential Oils for Cough

Not all coughs are created equal. Some are caused by viral infections, some are triggered by bacterial infections, and others signify a more serious illness. This guide will help you choose the right essential oil for the type of cough you have, but consulting a doctor or naturopath may be a smart move before you try aromatherapy or a topical application of these oils.

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Eucalyptus Essential Oils

amber glass bottle of eucalyptus essential oil

These oils, particularly the one called Eucalyptus globulus, are a powerful weapon against coughs and their underlying causes. Eucalyptus oil in general is an antibacterial that also boosts the immune system, making it effective for sinus infections as well as bronchitis and other respiratory infections. Eucalyptus globulus is most beneficial for chest congestion and coughs. One more benefit: eucalyptus dilutes blood vessels, allowing more oxygen to reach your lungs when you’re coughing and struggling for breath.

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Peppermint Essential Oils

bottle of Public Goods peppermint essential oil

The power of menthol contained in peppermint essential oil is one reason why it’s such a good choice for coughs and congestion in the upper respiratory tract. Menthol acts as a natural expectorant that loosens phlegm and clears the nasal sinuses; peppermint is an antibacterial agent that may help against the flu and infections that cause many coughs. Peppermint essential oil relieves the sore throats that lead to dry coughs, and it is an antitussive and antispasmodic that can stop bad coughing fits.

Rosemary Essential Oils

bottle of Public Goods rosemary essential oil

One of the ingredients found in rosemary oils is cineole, a substance that’s been shown to slow or stop coughing fits by relaxing muscles in the trachea. It also has antimicrobial and antioxidant properties, boosting the immune system.

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Lemon Essential Oils

bottle of Public Goods lemon essential oil

Lemon oils help the body fight coughs in several ways. It supports the drainage of lymph nodes, while allowing the immune system to fight the underlying illness causing the cough. It’s an anti-inflammatory that helps restore the respiratory system to good health. And it’s an antioxidant that supports the body’s immunity.

Oregano Essential Oils

Carvacrol and thymol are two important active ingredients in oregano oils, each with powerful antifungal and antibacterial properties that can battle the potential causes of illness and cough. Oregano oil is also believed to be an antiviral, making it able to fight colds, as well as more serious infections.

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Tea Tree Essential Oils

bottle of Public Goods tea tree oil

Centuries ago, indigenous Australians inhaled the scent of leaves from the melaleuca alternifolia plant to treat colds and coughs. That plant is known today as tea tree, and tea tree oil has been proven to have strong antimicrobial properties that fight the bacteria responsible for many respiratory problems. It also is great at clearing congestion.

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Lavender Essential Oils

bottle of Public Goods lavender essential oil

Lavender essential oil is such a powerful weapon against coughs that medical experts say it can even stop bronchial asthma attacks, clearing airways and reducing the inflammation that causes these serious coughing spells.

It All Starts With a Good Aromatherapist

There are many more essential oils useful for the treatment of coughs. They include bergamot oil, which contains camphene that relieves the building up of fluid in the respiratory tract; clove oil, whose strong scent clears nasal passages and works as an expectorant; and geranium oil, often used as a natural remedy for coughs.

Any or all of these essential oils may work to ease or stop your cough – with no side effects whasover. But consulting an aromatherapist is the best way to find the perfect oils for your cough and its cause.

One warning, though: the Covid era has taught us that even though essential oils seem to be able to work wonders, they’re ineffective against the coronavirus. Apparently, even “miracle treatments” have their limits.

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Comments (3)

    • Thanks so much for the kind words!

      We appreciate you taking the time to comment, so I’m leaving you with a little something from us. You can use code BLOG15 at checkout for $15 off of your first purchase with us. 😊

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