Essential Oils for Flu & Colds
Though the flu and the common cold can often be confused due to some of their similar symptoms, they are in fact two separate viral infections that require different treatments. Both the flu and a cold can last for up to seven days, though the flu can sometimes linger for three to four weeks and can also develop into more serious respiratory conditions such as pneumonia.1
When determining whether your symptoms are indicative of a flu or a cold, always make sure to check in with a certified physician. Though a common cold (caused by the adenovirus or coronavirus) can improve on its own with time and rest, if you have the flu (caused by the influenza virus), there are certain vaccinations or antiviral medications that may be prescribed by a doctor to prevent further developments.1
The most common symptoms of a cold include a runny nose, congestion, and a sore or itchy throat with cough.2 Flu symptoms often include the latter symptoms, but are accompanied by muscle and joint aching, fever or chills, headaches, and fatigue.1 Complications associated with the cold and flu can lead to upper respiratory infections such as bacterial sinusitis and strep throat, and the flu can lead to lower respiratory infections in the lungs that can lead to pneumonia and bronchitis.3
While taking medications to cure these symptoms can be crucial, for those wishing to complement their treatment with alternative methods, or for those who may not be able to take certain antibiotics, using essential oils for the flu is a natural way to address uncomfortable symptoms.
Essential oils for colds have been used for years in aromatherapy for their antimicrobial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties. Today, essential oils are even used in over-the-counter medications for their fantastic cold-fighting properties. The practice of using essential oils for flu symptoms can not only help treat the condition, but also help manage stress and improve fatigue that often accompanies being sick. The following is a list of the best essential oils for sickness symptoms related to the cold and flu.
Essential Oils for Cough
Coughing is the body’s natural response to fighting infection in the lungs by expelling any microbes and other foreign particles found in the respiratory tract. Though coughing can be a voluntary way to reject mucus, it can also be an involuntary reflex when the nerves in the larynx and respiratory tract are affected by infections and other irritants. When this happens, the muscles in the chest, abdomen and diaphragm contract, resulting in the release of air from the epiglottis, which produces a hacking sound.3
Coughing occurs in response to numerous factors and health complications, but is a tell-tale sign of the presence of a cold or flu. This is due to postnasal drip, an excess amount of mucus that builds up and ends up dripping down the back of the throat. You can tell if you have a postnasal drip if decongestants and nasal irrigations do not work.3 For this reason, using essential oils for mucus in throat passage ways is a natural method to help suppress a cough.
For years, essential oils for coughs have been useful in alternative medicine because of their antimicrobial properties. While some studies have involved ingestion of essential oils for mucus control in patients with upper respiratory tract infections, Better Health Organization does not recommend ingesting them unless told to do so by a qualified professional. When treating symptoms including a cough, essential oil products are best used in a diffuser, as massage oil, in a bath or by steam inhalation. We’ve assembled the best essential oils to diffuse for cough relief and the treatment of other cold and flu symptoms.
What essential oils are good for cough suppression? – Some of the best essential oils for sore throat and cough include peppermint essential oil, tea tree essential oil, thieves essential oil, lemon essential oil, lavender essential oil and oregano essential oil. When using essential oils for dry cough remedies, keep in mind that before using, and if symptoms persist or get worse, consult a health care professional. When determining which essential oil for cough suppression will work best for you, consider the following:
Peppermint Essential Oil
Because of its high concentration of menthol, and potent antiviral characteristics, using peppermint essential oil for cough relief has been shown to be effective in treating patients in clinical trials.4,5 When topically using peppermint oil for colds, test a small patch of oil on your skin to avoid the possibility of an allergic reaction. Peppermint oil for cough relief should be only for adults as it can cause serious adverse reactions in children.
Tea Tree Essential Oil
Known for its powerful antiseptic and antifungal properties, tea tree essential oil may be effective for cold and flu symptoms. Tea tree oil for coughs may also provide relief as a massage blend or in a steam inhaler. Mix 4 drops of tea tree essential oil with 4 Tsp. of carrier oil and massage into the soles of your feet and chest.
Thieves Essential Oil
Considered an effective essential oil for colds, thieves essential oil can help provide flu symptom relief thanks to its antibacterial, antiseptic and antiviral properties. Made from a blend of lemon, cinnamon, eucalyptus, rosemary and clove oil, for colds, thieves oil has shown properties that support the immune system.6 Thieves oil for colds is most effective when used by steam inhalation. To use thieves oil for cough relief, add a few drops of thieves essential oil to a steaming bowl of water, cover your head with a towel and inhale deeply.
Lemon Essential Oil
Lemon essential oil for cough suppression is another effective natural remedy. Known for its energizing, antimicrobial, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, lemon essential oil is ideal for cough and congestion relief. When using lemon essential oil for colds, it’s best used in a diffuser, but can also be diluted with carrier oil and applied topically.
Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender has been used for centuries to induce sleep and relaxation. Due to its analgesic properties and antibacterial agents, lavender oil for cold and cough symptoms can help treat the flu and sinus congestion. It is one of the best essential oils for phlegm relief, and can be applied topically to the throat and chest when diluted with carrier oil.
Oregano Essential Oil
One of the best essential oils for whooping cough is oregano essential oil. With potent antibacterial and expectorant (mucus-clearing) properties, using oregano essential oil for colds is ideal for treating dry throats and irritation. Whooping cough is a contagious bacterial infection that occurs in the upper respiratory tract, and is known to affect children and teenagers even after inoculation.7 For safe use, make a chest rub using 15 drops of oregano oil with 1 oz. of carrier oil and apply to the chest area before bed.
Essential Oils for Toddler Cough
There can be numerous possibilities for why your toddler is coughing—with some being more serious than others. Because coughing is extremely common in children, who may have up to 12 respiratory tract infections every year, it may be difficult to determine their severity.8 If you are ever concerned, do not hesitate to contact a medical professional.
Because commercial cough remedies are not always useful for treating a child’s cold, natural remedies can be made at home using essential oils. The use of lavender essential oil has been shown to be safe for young ones experiencing colic, which causes crying and spasms. With anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and sedative properties, lavender essential oil has also been shown to reduce airway inflammation in asthma models.9,13 Considered one of the top essential oils for baby cough, using lavender oil for colds is generally found to be safe when a very small amount is used in a humidifier.
Always keep essential oils out of reach of children, and make sure they are not used around or inside their nose. Certain essential oils are irritants to the skin and should not be used on children, including peppermint and eucalyptus essential oil. Never apply essential oils to the skin of children under 6 months old. For cold symptoms that do not improve or get worse, contact a health care professional, and discontinue use immediately.
Essential Oils for Sinus Infection
Sinus infections affect around 31 million Americans, and are often mistaken for a common cold due to their similar symptoms. They are more prevalent in people with weakened immune systems, allergies causing inflammation of the sinuses, or structural blockages in the nasal area. Symptoms include nasal congestion, sinus headaches, and excess mucus—but unlike a cold, often require powerful antibiotics to kill the bacterial infection. 10 Using essential oils for sinus infections are a natural alternative to over-the-counter decongestants that may not be suitable for some people.
In the case of chronic sinusitis (a sinus disease that is recurring or constant), extensive and painful surgery is another option. For those living with chronic sinus pain, the symptoms can be debilitating. Sinus headaches, tooth pain, fever and fatigue are all common symptoms, though they can also be confused for rhinitis—a similar sinus disease of the nasal cavity.10
Perhaps the best essential oil for sinus infection relief is peppermint oil, thanks to its cooling aroma and antiviral compounds. Menthol, which is now used in nasal sprays, cough syrup and cough drops, is a natural extract found in peppermint essential oil, and has been used for decades to alleviate ailments of the nose and throat. For sinus infection remedies, it is best used for relief of sinus headaches caused by pressure from backed up phlegm and mucus and the narrowing of inflamed membranes.4,5,11 Because peppermint oil for sinus infection should not be ingested, it is best to use in a diffuser or by steam inhalation.
Essential Oils for Congestion
Congestion is the broad medical term that encompasses cold and flu symptoms that produce the stuffy and backed-up feeling of mucus and phlegm build-up in the throat, ears, nose, and lungs. Congestion can be caused by allergies, viruses and other pathogens, and can lead to painful headaches and uncomfortable runny or stuffed noses. For treatment, use of an essential oil, decongestant, or antibiotic is usually an effective way of relieving the pressure. Essential oils for colds and congestion are a safe way to reduce inflammation in the nose.
However, using an essential oil for congestion-related complaints can often have additional benefits, compared to traditional medicine.
The best essential oil for congestion involving the sinuses is peppermint oil; for congestion resulting in serious sinus headaches, peppermint contains menthol properties, proven to aid congestion.4,5,11 For this reason, it’s also considered one of the most effective essential oils for head congestion.
As one of the top essential oils for ear congestion, rosemary essential oil’s properties help clear congested airways or nasal passages and equalize air pressure in the Eustachian tubes connected to the nose. With antibacterial and pain-relieving qualities, rosemary essential oil can be added to a diffuser, an aromatic bath or directly inhaled to relieve congestion. For a pleasant aroma, combine 2 drops each of rosemary and lavender oil for congestion in a diffuser for up to 30 minutes.
Essential Oils for Sinus Congestion
Most commonly, congestion is used to describe sinus congestion—or the feeling of fullness in the face.12 As mentioned above, sinus congestion related to sinusitis can be exceptionally uncomfortable, but can be overlooked or over-treated with antibiotics. To help alleviate some of the swelling in the lining of the mucous membranes, one essential oil for nasal congestion is peppermint oil for sinus soothing. Menthol produces a cooling sensation that—though may not cure congestion long term—will certainly reduce headache pain and around the eyes.
Other effective essential oils for sinus pain include tea tree essential oil, eucalyptus essential oil and lavender essential oil. Eucalyptus may be the best essential oil for sinus congestion, thanks to its antibacterial, anti-allergen, pain-relieving properties and ability to clear inflamed nasal passage ways. Other essential oils to clear sinuses may include oregano essential oil, which has potent antifungal and antiviral properties.
When using lavender oil, sinus congestion may be relieved when used with steam inhalation. To use lavender essential oil for sinus congestion, add 2-4 drops of lavender essential oil to a steaming bowl of hot water, cover your head with a towel and inhale.
For users wondering how to use peppermint oil for sinuses, it can be used in an aromatherapy bath, by topical application or in a diffuser. Steam inhalation can also be enhanced with peppermint oil, and sinuses will feel less inflamed and constricted. Peppermint essential oil should always be diluted with a carrier oil before topical application. Do not place peppermint essential oil inside the nasal cavity.
Essential Oils for Chest Congestion
Chest congestion is also a symptom of a cold or flu, but can develop into much more serious conditions if left untreated. Congestion in this area involves excessive mucus in the lower airway that may restrict airflow to the lungs. Bacterial infections may be the cause for chest congestion, and may require medical treatment.4
An essential oil for chest congestion relief known for its antibacterial and antifungal properties is eucalyptus oil. Chest congestion is often treated with expectorants that get rid of excess mucus, but eucalyptus essential oil for colds is used in many over-the-counter medications, and can simply be used on its own. In the case of congestion related to allergens, eucalyptus essential oil has for years been the subject of studies examining its effects on allergic reactions.
Tea tree oil for chest congestion is another option. Either essential oil can be used with regular inhalation via diffuser to address chronic conditions or asthma related issues. They can also be used to prevent painful coughs by dilution in a carrier oil and sparing application to the chest twice a day. While tea tree oil is less toxic than eucalyptus, neither should be taken orally. To use these essential oils for bronchial congestion (inflammation affecting the bronchial passage to the lungs), a few drops can be added to a bath, or used in the steam of a shower.
Essential Oils for Stuffy Nose
Using essential oils for blocked nose congestion is a safe and natural way of addressing unwelcome cold and flu symptoms. When deciding what essential oils are good for stuffy noses and sore or itchy throats caused by post-nasal drip, any of the previously mentioned essential oils have proven benefits. Because it’s commonly found in over-the-counter medications, eucalyptus oil for cold symptoms may be the best essential oil for stuffy nose as it is well-known for its antibacterial properties and ability to calm inflamed nasal passage ways.
When experiencing a stuffy nose, eucalyptus essential oil can be applied to a cotton ball or handkerchief and inhaled directly.
Scientific Research Referenced in this Article
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016, May 23). Flu symptoms & complications. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved May 20, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/complications.htm – View reference
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2016, January). Flu and Colds [PDF]. Retrieved May 20, 2017, from https://nccih.nih.gov/sites/nccam.nih.gov/files/Flu_and_Colds_01-27-2016.pdf – View reference
- Harvard Men’s Health Watch. (2015 August). That nagging cough. Harvard Health Publications. Retrieved May 21, 2017, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/that-nagging-cough – View reference
- Ben-Arye, E., Dudai, N., Eini, A., Torem, M., Schiff, E., Rakover, Y. (2011). Treatment of Upper Respiratory Tract Infections in Primary Care: A Randomized Study Using Aromatic Herbs. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Volume 2011 (2011), Article ID690346, 7 pages. Retrieved May 21, 2017, from https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2011/690346/
- Gupta, NC., Saxena, G. (2010). Antimicrobial activity of constituents identified in essential oils from Mentha and Cinnamomum through GC-MS. International Journal of Pharma and Bio Sciences 1(4). Retrieved May 21, 2017, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/286939737_Antimicrobial_activity_of_constituents_identified_in_essential_oils_from_Mentha_and_Cinnamomum_through_GC-M – View reference
- Chao, S., Young, D., Oberg, C. (1998). Effect of a Diffused Essential Oil Blend on Bacertial Biaerosols. Journal of Essential Oil Research. 10(5):517-523. DOI: 10.1080/10412905.1998.9700958
- Long, GH., Karanikas, AT., Harvill, ET., Read, AF., Hudson, PJ. (2010). Acellular pertussis vaccination acilitates Bordetella parapertussis inection in a rodent model of bordetellosis. Proc Biol Sci. 2010 Jul 7;277(1690):2017-25. Doi:1098/rspb.2010.0010.
- The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. (2012, December). Cough: Kids Health Info. Retrieved May 21, 2017, from http://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Cough/ – View reference
- Çetinkaya, B., & Başbakkal, Z. (2012). The effectiveness of aromatherapy massage using lavender oil as a treatment for infantile colic. International Journal of Nursing Practice, 18(2), 164-169. doi:1111/j.1440-172x.2012.02015.x
- American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. (2014). Sinus Information. Retrieved May 21, 2017, from http://acaai.org/allergies/types/sinus-infection – View reference
- Fox, N. (1927). Effect of Camphor, Eucalyptol, Menthol on the Vascular State of the Mucous Membrane. Arch Otolargngol. 1927;6(2):112-122. Retrieved May 21, 2017 from http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaotolaryngology/article-abstract/541965
- Seidman, M., Gurgel, R., Lin, S., Schwartz, S., Baroody, F., Bonner, J., Dawson, D., Dykewicz, M., Hackell, J., Han, J., Ishman, S., Krouse, H., Malekzadeh, S., Mims, J., Omole, F., Reddy, W., Wallace, D., Walsh, S., Warren, B., Wilson, M., Nnacheta, L. (2015). Clinical Practice Guideline: Allergic Rhinitis [PDf]. Official Journal of the American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery Foundation, Volume 152, Supplement 1. http://www.msm.edu/Administration/MarketingandCommunications/MSMNews/MSMNewsDocuments/March2015/OmoleArticle.pdf
- Ueno-Iio, T., Shibakura, M., Yokota, K., Aoe, M., Hyoda, T., Shinohata, R., & Kataoka, M. (2014). Lavender essential oil inhalation suppresses allergic airway inflammation and mucous cell hyperplasia in a murine model of asthma. Life Sciences, 108(2), 109-115. doi:1016/j.lfs.2014.05.018