Can Steam Inhalation With Eucalyptus Essential Oil Help?

Steam inhalation with eucalyptus essential oil.
A eucalyptus steam inhalation. Alain SHRODER/ONOKY/Getty Images

Steam inhalation is a remedy often used to ease symptoms such as nasal congestion in people with upper respiratory tract infections. Besides clearing congestion and mucus, the heat supposedly helps to kill off the cold virus.

Some alternative practitioners suggest adding a drop or two of eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) essential oil to the heated water when doing a steam inhalation. When inhaled, the eucalyptus oil is thought to help loosen mucus.

It should not be ingested, applied directly to the skin, or used in excess of suggested amounts.

Related: 11 All-Natural Remedies for a Cold

How It's Typically Done:

Materials

  • Kettle
  • Water
  • Eucalyptus essential oil (Eucalyptus globulus)
  • Sheet or large towel
  • Large bowl or container

Instructions

1. Fill the kettle and bring the water to a boil.

2. Place a bowl on a stable surface, such as a table.

3. Turn the kettle off and carefully pour approximately four to six cups of water into the bowl.

4. Add a drop or two of eucalyptus oil to the water.

5. With the head at least an arm's length away, cover the head with the towel. Don't bring the face too close to the water.

6. Close your eyes and breathe the humidified air. Continue for 10 minutes, taking regular breaks.

7. If you start to feel overheated or uncomfortable, remove the sheet.

Related: 5 Aromatherapy Oils to Consider

Research on Steam Inhalation

In 2013, a report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews examined six randomized controlled trials that were previously published and found that steam inhalation didn't show any consistent benefit in treating cold symptoms.

Side Effects and Safety

With steam inhalation, there is the risk of burns from the steam or boiling water. A case report published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine in 2014 described a child who suffered airway injury and thermal epiglottitis after steam inhalation. Infants, children, and older adults may not be able to respond appropriately to the heat.

Caution should be used when using hot steam, and due to the lack of evidence, it's a good idea to talk with your health care provider before doing a steam inhalation.

Other side effects may include headache, dizziness, nausea, tiredness, and nasal discomfort and irritation.

Children and pets should be kept away from containers of hot water to avoid scalds and burns. 

Do not add more than the suggested amount of eucalyptus oil. Certain people should avoid eucalyptus steam inhalation, such as those with heart conditions, central nervous system disorders, and pregnant women. Eucalyptus oil should not be taken internally or applied directly to the skin. Find out more about using essential oils safely.

Bowls and containers containing the liquid should be clearly labeled and not left unattended. Safely dispose of the liquid immediately after use to avoid accidental ingestion.

Keep in mind that it is essential that you consult your doctor if you are experiencing any symptoms. Self-treating with natural remedies and avoiding or delaying standard care may be harmful to your health.

Sources:

Baartmans M, Kerkhof E, Vloemans J, Dokter J, Nijman S, Tibboel D, Nieuwenhuis M. Steam inhalation therapy: severe scalds as an adverse side effect. Br J Gen Pract. 2012 Jul;62(600):e473-7. doi: 10.3399/bjgp12X652337.

Boyle W, Saine A. Lectures in Naturopathic Hydrotherapy. Oregon: Eclectic Medical Publications 1988; 83-5.

Kudchadkar SR, Hamrick JT, Mai CL, Berkowitz I, Tunkel D. The heat is on... thermal epiglottitis as a late presentation of airway steam injury. J Emerg Med. 2014 Feb;46(2):e43-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2013.08.033. Epub 2013 Oct 7.

Lawless, J. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils. Dorset: Element Books, Ltd. 1995; 141.

Singh M, Singh M. Heated, humidified air for the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jun 4;6:CD001728. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001728.pub5.

Schnaubelt K. Advanced Aromatherapy. Vermont: Healing Art Press 1998.

Tisserand R, Balacs, J: Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone 1995; 31-2.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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