Steam Inhalation With Eucalyptus Oil

Can adding eucalyptus oil to a bath, shower, or inhalation ease your congestion?

Steam inhalation with eucalyptus oil.
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Aromatherapy essential oils can be used in a variety of ways at home, such as in body lotions or massage oil. Eucalyptus oil, often used to soothe congestion and other cold symptoms, is an oil that is said to work best when it is combined with some form of steam inhalation. Here are some ways to do it:

1) Eucalyptus Oil in a Bath or Shower

Using eucalyptus oil in a warm bath or shower is the easiest way to create an at-home steam inhalation.

Add several drops of the essential oil to your bath just before getting in. If you're taking a shower, try placing several drops of the essential oil onto a wet washcloth. Allow the warm water of the shower to release the vaporized oil.

2) Eucalyptus Oil in a Bowl of Warm Water

Another method involves adding a drop of eucalyptus oil to a mug or small bowl of hot water and standing over the bowl for a short period so that you can gently inhale the eucalyptus-infused steam.

To try a steam inhalation, place one to two drops of eucalyptus essential oil in a bowl of hot water. (Make sure the bowl is on a stable surface and is out of reach of children and pets.) With your head at least an arm's length away from the bowl, put a towel over your head to focus the steam.

Close your eyes and breathe the vapor through your nose. Take regular breaks (stopping immediately if you feel overheated or uncomfortable), and don't do it for more than five to ten minutes.

Related: 5 Aromatherapy Oils to Consider

3) Eucalyptus Oil in a Steam Inhaler

There are a number of electric personal steam inhalers available at drug stores and household goods stores. Some of them come with scented pads or packets to add menthol and other scents to the steam, however, many are made with synthetic scents rather than pure essential oils.

You shouldn't add pure essential oils to an electric personal steam inhaler unless it is intended to be used that way. Essential oils can break down plastic. 

The Research on Steam Inhalation

While a steam inhalation can feel deeply soothing, research suggests that it may not be effective at relieving symptoms. For a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, for instance, researchers examined the use of daily steam inhalation, daily nasal saline irrigation, combined treatment with nasal saline irrigation and daily steam inhalation, or usual care in people with chronic or recurrent sinus symptoms. At the study's end, researchers found that those who did the steam inhalation had reduced headache but had no other improvement in symptoms.

In a report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2013, scientists sized up six previously published clinical trials (including 294 men or women) on the effects of inhaling steam in the treatment of the common cold. The researchers found that in some studies, steam inhalation relieved symptoms, however, in others it did not. Their conclusion was that there isn't enough evidence to support steam inhalation to relieve common cold symptoms.

Side Effects and Safety

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

There is a risk of burns from the steam or the hot water during a steam inhalation. Children are at a greater risk due to their developing motor skills. Infants, children, and older adults are also at a higher risk because they may not be able to respond appropriately to the heat.

In a study published in The British Journal of General Practice, researchers studied the records of people who were seen at a regional burn center for steam inhalation burns and sent a survey to 150 local primary care providers asking whether they recommended steam inhalation to their patients.

On average, three children per year were admitted at the burn center with steam inhalation burns for the five-year period studied. While most children required dressings, one child required surgery. Of the 21 primary care providers surveyed, 17 recommended steam inhalation to their patients. In their conclusion, the researchers stated that "Its practice continues to be recommended by GPs but children...are at significant risk of burn injuries and this practice should no longer be recommended".

A case report published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine in 2014 described a child who had a steam inhalation and suffered airway injury and thermal epiglottitis (a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when heat causes the cartilage covering your windpipe to swell and obstruct air flow into the lungs).

Essential oils should not be ingested, applied directly to the skin, or used in excess of recommended amounts. Certain people may need to avoid eucalyptus steam inhalation, such as those with heart conditions, central nervous system disorders, and pregnant women. Find out more about using essential oils safely.

Keep children and pets away from containers of hot water to avoid scalds and burns and essential oil poisoning. 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.

Burns can also occur when handling the hot water.

A steam inhalation shouldn't be used in place of standard treatment for any condition.

A Word From Verywell

The warm steam of a bath or shower can be incredibly relaxing and soothing after a long day. You may even find that the steam helps to loosen up a stuffy nose.

But when it comes to doing a steam inhalation by pouring hot water from a kettle or pot into a bowl, there is a risk of burn injuries from the hot water (while preparing the inhalation) or the steam. While the risks can be reduced by using a small container like an old mug or small bowl instead of a large bowl (or using a personal steam inhaler) there are still risks.

Given that more research is needed from large-scale clinical trials, you may be better off getting steam from warm baths or showers rather than from a steam inhalation. If you're still considering trying it, be sure to consult your health care provider to make sure that it's right for you.

Sources:

Al Himdani S, Javed MU, Hughes J, et al. Home remedy or hazard?: management and costs of paediatric steam inhalation therapy burn injuries. Br J Gen Pract. 2016 Mar;66(644):e193-9.

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.

Little P, Stuart B, Mullee M, et al. Effectiveness of steam inhalation and nasal irrigation for chronic or recurrent sinus symptoms in primary care: a pragmatic randomized controlled trial. CMAJ. 2016 Sep 20;188(13):940-9.

Singh M, Singh M. Heated, humidified air for the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jun 4;(6):CD001728.

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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