Aromatherapy essential oils and asthma

Asthma is a condition in which there is narrowing of the bronchial tubes which causes difficulty in breathing.  People with asthma experience symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness.  These symptoms are commonly caused as a result of the bronchial tubes tightening, inflammation of the mucous membranes or the muscular walls of the diaphragm contracting (Battaglia, 2007).  Some asthmatic attacks can be mild whilst others are more severe and require immediate medical assistance.  Some individuals experience asthmatic attacks daily, others can go for a long period of time with no symptoms.  Furthermore, there are many factors which trigger asthma attacks, such as changes in weather, stress, viral infections, exercise, air pollution and inhaled allergens, such as dust, mould spores, mites, animal hair or feathers and cigarette smoke.  Certain chemical food additives can also trigger asthma in some people.

It is very important for asthma sufferers to heed medical advice and take prescribed medication.   Nonetheless, some essential oils have useful anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, expectorant, nervine and sedative properties.  These essential oils may, therefore, be used as a preventative measure for asthma.  The methods of use and the choice of oils, will depend, however, upon the factors which trigger an asthmatic attack for example; if an infection is present, if stress and anxiety are contributory factors or if the attack is an allergic response.

I have detailed some of the oils that I find most useful below, along with suggested methods of use. These methods are recommended as preventative measures only, that can be taken in between attacks. During attacks I strongly recommend that only the prescribed medication is taken.

Using essential oils for asthma

Inhalation

To help stop the bronchial tubes tightening, diffuse 2 drops of Sweet Thyme (Thymus vulgaris ct linalol), 4 drops of Spearmint (Mentha spicata) and 1 drop of Benzoin (Styrax benzoin).  The same essential oils may also be placed on tissue or handkerchief, or into an aromatherapy inhalator and inhaled.  Alternatively the oils can be blended with 14ml of Moisturising Cream and applied to the chest.

There are conflicting opinions on whether people with asthma should use steam inhalation, with some experts claiming that the heat may increase inflammation of the mucous membranes and worsen the condition.  If steam inhalation is used, it should be done so with medical consent and very carefully by gradually increasing the time from 30 seconds on the first occasion to no more than three minutes on subsequent occasions if no adverse reaction is experienced. 

To do a steam inhalation pour steaming hot water into a large bowl and add 3 drops of Frankincense (Boswellia carterii) essential oil.  Lean over the bowl and breathe.  Frankincense is traditionally noted for its expectorant, and relaxant properties, and several clinical studies confirm its anti-inflammatory properties (Noroozi, et al., 2018).  Frankincense may also help an individual slow down and deepen their breathing.

For individuals who have disturbed sleep due to night coughing, put 4 drops of Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) on the pillow (or tissue) at night.  This essential oil is renowned for its sedative properties and for promoting restful and peaceful sleep.  Additionally, researchers evaluated the anti-inflammatory effect of Lavender on experimentally induced bronchial asthma in a murine model, with findings indicating that the essential oil possesses anti-inflammatory properties which may be helpful for bronchial asthmatic sufferers (Ueno-Iio, et al., 2014).

Massage

Studies have shown that massage therapy can help improve lung function in some asthma sufferers (Ji Wu, et al., 2017) and alleviate anxiety (Goli & Shabestari 2017).  It may therefore be helpful to have regular aromatherapy massages with a professional therapist who can choose the most appropriate oils and work on the thoracic area to help open the chest and shoulders.

Aroma-reflex facial

Using a daily aroma-reflex facial routine, such as the one shown below may help reduce stress and may, therefore, be helpful for asthmatic sufferers, whose trigger is emotional distress. 

  1. Cleanse face using 50ml of Cleansing lotion with 2 drops of Sweet Thyme , 4 drops of Lavender and 1 drop of Frankincense
  2. Tone face with our 100% pure Rose Otto Hydrolat
  3. Apply a few drops of facial oil. Mix 50ml of Apricot Kernel oil, 2 drops of Sweet Thyme, 4 drops of Lavender and 1 drop of Frankincense
  4. Take three deep breathes and say a positive affirmation, such as: “I am always provided with an abundance of breath”
  5. Effleurage face, neck and décolleté
  6. Circles: chin/around lips/cheeks/forehead – repeat three times
  7. Stimulate each reflex point one at a time – see table below
  8. Gently finger tap all aspects of face, moving from chin to forehead
  9. Gently massage specific reflex points - see table below
  10. Stroke up occipital groove
  11. Effleurage face, neck and décolleté

Aroma-reflex points

Location of reflex pointBenefits
In the hollow below the clavicle next to the sternum
Relieves allergies associated with chest congestion, breathing difficulties, asthma, coughing, anxiety and depression
Two-thirds of the way up from the upper lip to the nose
Stimulates the system to rebalance and rejuvenate the body as a whole
In the indentations of the eye sockets, on either side of where the bridge of the nose meets the ridge of the eyebrows
Relieves colds, sinus congestion, frontal headaches, and tired eyes
Directly between the eyebrows, in the indentation where the bridge of the nose meets the foreheadStimulates the pituitary gland, which is the master gland, to enhance the condition of the skin throughout the body. Relaxes the central nervous system for relieving anxiety, calms the body

Aromatherapy Baths

The table below provides examples of essential oils that are helpful in reducing stress and anxiety.  These oils can be used alongside conventional treatment although not during an asthmatic attack!  I recommend choosing up to three different oils and mixing them into 10ml of carrier oil, bath oil or SLS Free Shower Gel in the ratio of 2 drops from the top note category, 4 drops from the middle note category and 1 drop from the base note category. This blend can then be added to the bath to aid relaxation. Pour the mixture into warm (not hot) running bath water and relax for approximately 20 minutes.

Top note oilsMiddle note oilsBase note oils
Sweet Thyme (Thymus vulgaris ct linalol)Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)Benzoin (Styrax benzoin)

Sweet Marjoram (Origanum majorana)Frankincense (Boswellia carterii)

General complementary health advice for asthma

Other complementary health programmes such practising daily mindfulness or meditation might help reduce factors, such as stress, that can trigger asthmatic attacks.  Yoga and other forms of gentle exercise which improve posture and help open the lungs are usually beneficial too. Furthermore, healthy eating can also reduce the number and severity of attacks with some experts suggesting that all vegetables and salad foods (with the exception of tomatoes), as well as sprouting seeds, onions, garlic, rye bread, whole grains, pulses, all fish, most meat (with the exception of pork, bacon and ham), and all fruit can be helpful in managing the condition.  

Signposting to asthma support networks

There are a couple of organisations listed below, who provide help and support to individuals affected by asthma:


Christine Fisk
Consultant Aromatherapist

Disclaimer & Safety Advice

References

Battaglia, S. (2007). Battaglia, S. (2007) The The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy. (2nd ed.). Australia: The International Centre of Holistic Aromatherapy.

Noroozi, S., Haghighian, K., H, Abbasi, M., Javadi, M., & Goodarzi, S. (2018). A review of the therapeutic effects of frankincense. The Journal of Qazvin University of Medical Sciences, 22(1), 70-81 . doi:10.29252/qums.22.1.81

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:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lfs.2014.05.018

Ji Wu, Xi-Wen Yang, Ming Zhang (2017). Massage Therapy in Children with Asthma: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine Volume 2017, Article ID 5620568, https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/5620568

Goli H, Shabestari MS. 52: Effectiveness of Massage Therapy in Improving Symptom in Children with Allergic Asthma: A Randomized Clinical Trial. BMJ Open 2017;7:bmjopen-2016-015415.52. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2016-015415.52

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