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Cautionary Thoughts: Are Essential Oils Safe to Inhale?

Cautionary Thoughts: Are Essential Oils Safe to Inhale?

For centuries, people all over the world have used essential oils. Many of my clients use essential oils and often use a diffuser to disperse the oils in the air. These oils come in many aromas and are said to affect our emotions and health. The manufacturer states that it can be used for energizing, calming, motion sickness, nausea, pain relief, and much more. But, before you dive in, there are some things to know. Essential oils aren't regulated like medicines. They lack regulation from the Food and Drug Administration, so their quality can vary.

What are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are a concentrated liquid made by extracting plant fragrances or organic compounds. They are distilled by using various methods depending on the type of oil being extracted. These could include alcohol, steam, pressing, etc.

After the plant materials are processed, the scented oils can be used in perfumes, cosmetics, soaps, drinks, and food flavoring. However, the term "essential" in essential oils is misleading. These oils are not required by the body, like essential amino acids or fatty acids.

The concentration of the oils depends on how they will be used. For example, highly concentrated oils used in aromatherapy shouldn't make direct contact with the skin. If they are used the wrong way, it can cause reactions like inflammation and irritation, especially in children.

Are Essential Oils Dangerous?

According to the National Capital Poison Center, some essential oils can be poisonous. This can be true whether swallowed or absorbed through the skin. They can also cause pneumonia if aspirated into the lungs. Proper storage, following label instructions, and keeping these products out of reach of children are crucial safety measures. If you experience a poison with this type of product, call Poison Control (800-222-1222) for help.

Essential oils are used in aromatherapy, which is an alternative medical approach for healing emotional stress. There are claims that they can also address other medical issues, but there is no evidence to support this. Research has shown that some fragrant essential oils have the potential as a natural pesticide for insects and some arthropods. This does not affect animals, including people.

In addition, some essential oils can kill germs and have been looked at as additives for food. Their use has been rare because the high concentrations required are much higher than those used in synthetic materials today.

Using essential oils may not be safe for pregnant women or pets because they can contain harmful impurities and additives. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Document 4720, published in 2018, has studies on essential oil use. This is a good read for those who want to learn more.

The American Lung Association also warns about using essential oils. They suggest asking a doctor first, diluting the oil, using a diffuser safely, and being aware that everyone reacts differently. They also recommend doing a "patch test" to check for skin reactions and keeping an eye on how you feel after using them.

If you have asthma, the use of essential oils can trigger asthma symptoms, coughing, or shortness of breath. If you have COPD, you should consult a healthcare professional before using these oils. The ALA states, "Inhaling essential oils directly, or in high concentrations, can trigger symptoms in the damaged lung tissues."

While many people use essential oils daily, it's important to be aware of their effects. If you have trouble breathing or develop a rash, stop using them and seek advice from a professional.

The ALA made a great observation by stating, "Adding anything – including essential oils – to the air you breathe is not recommended. Fresh, clean air is best." And I agree.

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