Learning about the most common respiratory diseases and how to protect yourself using essential oils for respiratory support can be the difference between getting sick and staying healthy. You’ll find that inhaling these through an aromatherapy inhaler or ultrasonic diffuser will be your new best friend.
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Chronic Diseases That Compromise Your Respiratory System
Chronic respiratory diseases come in many different shapes and sizes and can make you vulnerable to complications from socially spread viruses such as influenza. If you do have a respiratory disease, you can take actions that protect your health and boost your immunity. The key is to get started before you get sick.
Here are some of the most common chronic diseases that can compromise your respiratory system.
Asthma (1) is a chronic disease that inflames and constricts the air passages in the lungs, causing wheezing, breathlessness, coughing, and chest tightness. It commonly impacts children. In 2017, 8.4% of children (2) in the U.S. under the age of 18 had asthma.
Typically, asthma is controlled with medication and avoiding triggers. The CDC (3) reports that people with asthma who are infected with respiratory viruses are at a higher risk of getting very sick.
If you have a cough that lasts 8 weeks or more, you may be diagnosed with a chronic cough (4). Children are diagnosed after 4 weeks. The key to this problem is discovering the cause, which can involve X-rays or CT scans. Some doctors, however, will move directly to treatment, however, a proper diagnosis of the underlying problem will be better for guiding treatment.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, “a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs,” according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms include:
- Difficulty breathing
Smoking (5) is the leading cause of COPD and may cause up to 80% of cases, although other causes include second-hand smoke, exposure to certain fumes or gases, and genetics.
COPD is treated with medication, oxygen therapy, exercise, nutrition, breathing strategies and more. Surgery may be required in severe cases.
This disease (6) occurs when lung tissue is scarred or damaged, making it difficult to breathe. It has many causes including:
- Exposure to certain toxins
- Radiation treatment
- Chemotherapy drugs
- Certain heart medications, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatory drugs
- Certain medical conditions
It is usually treated with medication, oxygen therapy, and pulmonary rehabilitation. More severe cases may require a lung transplant.
Harmful Respiratory Illnesses and Viruses
For people with chronic respiratory disease, viruses and bacteria can pose an especially harmful threat to your health and well-being. We recommend that you stay home if you contract any of these diseases to minimize spread and reduce your chances of catching another disease, as well as to foster your own recovery.
Special care should be taken with the following diseases:
Acute Bronchitis/Chest Cold
Acute bronchitis(7), commonly known as a chest cold, is caused by inflammation in your lungs. It can either be caused by a virus or bacteria. Even the CDC recommends you do not take antibiotics for this illness because they will not help you to get better. In fact, this disease usually gets better on its own but see a doctor for any serious symptoms, such as bloody mucus or trouble breathing.
Other symptoms include:
- Sore chest
- Mild head or body aches
- Sore throat
Influenza (8), or the flu, is a virus that attacks your respiratory system. Common symptoms are:
- Chills and sweats
- Head or body aches
- Dry, persistent cough
- Fatigue and weakness
- Nasal congestion
- Sore throat
It often heals on its own but certain people are at higher risk of complications, including:
- Children under 5 and babies
- People over 65
- Pregnant women and those up to two weeks postpartum
- People with weakened immune systems or chronic illnesses
- People who are very obese
Pneumonia (9) is a lung infection caused by inflammation of the lower respiratory tract. It is very dangerous especially for those in high-risk groups. Pneumonia is primarily caused by viruses.
One of the complications from influenza is pneumonia.
According to a 2015 study (9), most upper respiratory tract infections are caused by viruses, but bacteria can play a role in these diseases as well. Lower respiratory tract infections, including several types of pneumonia, are commonly caused by bacteria.
Building Immunity When You Have Respiratory Disease
If you have one of these conditions and a serious virus, you may be at risk for complications. In addition to essential oils for respiratory support, you should work with your doctor to treat these conditions. Additionally, it may be time to adopt a healthier lifestyle. You can do this by:
- Improving your diet. Bioactive foods can help boost your immune system. If you need help, check out our book, The Essential Oils Diet for tips on how to incorporate a healthy lifestyle without a painfully restrictive diet.
- Exercising appropriately. Again, you should discuss with your doctor what kinds of physical activities are appropriate for your body.
- Managing your stress. We all experience stress regularly so it’s important to find ways to manage it. Psychology Today writes that prolonged stress “can have harmful physical and psychological consequences, including heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, and depression.” Reducing stress is important for good physical and mental health!
- Getting a good night’s sleep. We know that sleep is critical for good health, but in today’s world, sleep disorders are on the rise. Strategize ways to get at least 7 hours per night’s sleep.
- Detox your home and life. This is an excellent time to make changes by removing toxic elements from your life, including unhealthy practices, negative thoughts, and harmful foods and products. Check out our podcast to learn how to detox your home and life.
- Incorporate essential oils. Essential oils can provide support for people with respiratory illnesses as well as a host of other benefits for your home and health!
Top 10 Essential Oils For Respiratory Support
Are essential oils helpful for respiratory tract infections? One of the great benefits of these oils is that they have been shown in lab studies to have antimicrobial effects that include inhibiting viruses and bacteria.
Let’s look at some of the top essential oils for respiratory health and how you can use them. Note that most of these studies are laboratory experiments and not human test trials, however, the results can still be useful!
With its strong aroma, eucalyptus oil has been the subject of much research focusing on respiratory diseases. According to Respiratory Research, the main constituent of eucalyptus oil, cineole, may be beneficial for COPD patients. In 2009, 242 COPD patients, all former smokers, were given a placebo or cineole for 6 months. Those treated with cineole had improved airflow, reduced shortness of breath, and better health.
Other varieties of eucalyptus oil were also found (10) to kill the bacteria that causes tuberculosis 90% of the time, which can often be resistant to treatment. This oil has lots of practical uses around the home as well, from stain removal to using a drop in your home’s air filters!
While socially spread illnesses can be challenging if you have a respiratory disease, sensible measures can be taken to prevent colds, the flu. It’s important to get accurate information from reliable sources like the CDC while taking preventative health measures to keep yourself safe and healthy.
Many of us are familiar with peppermint oil as a potent scent that can invigorate our senses, so it’s no surprise to see it on this list! Japanese scientists tested (11) peppermint extract on mice with inflamed nasal mucous membranes caused by allergies. Peppermint oil reduced sneezing and nasal rubbing in the mice making it a useful tool for people suffering from these issues.
It’s also been shown (12) to have moderate inhibitory effects on different strains of influenza and staph viruses. Because it is so potent and yet so pleasing, we think peppermint oil is a great choice for congestion and stuffiness.
That said, be sure to follow professional recommendations, healthcare provider advice, and common sense when using peppermint essential oil. Remember that peppermint oil is a medicinal-quality substance and should be treated with care.
Application: Diffuse 3 drops of peppermint and 3 drops of lavender oil. This can also help relieve inflammation if you are experiencing pain with your respiratory symptoms.
Similar to ginger, cardamom is an expensive cooking spice and is known to help the digestive system in a variety of ways. Cardamom essential oil include 1,8-cineole shared with the respiratory poster-oil eucalyptus, chemical (13) that has been used to treat multiple inflammatory disorders such as bronchitis, sinusitis, chronic rhinitis, and asthma.
Application: Beneficial for digestive health, try adding 1 drop of cardamom, 1 drop of ginger in a gel capsule and fill with an edible carrier like olive oil and consume once daily for up to 3-4 weeks.
Another respiratory powerhouse is caraway because of its rich antioxidant activity and anti-inflammatory effects (14), as well as antispasmodic and antihistamine activity (15). Though not an essential oil study, the antispasmodic effect of an alcoholic extract of caraway has shown inhibitory effects on smooth muscle contractions induced by the spasmogens, acetylcholine and histamine.
Application: Also, beneficial for digestive health, try adding 1 drop of caraway, 1 drop of cardamom, 1 drop of peppermint and fill with an edible carrier like olive oil in a gel capsule and consume once daily for up to 3-4 weeks.
5. Tea Tree
Tea Tree essential oil is already known to have proven benefits for a multitude of health issues, from wound care to fighting acne. Research (16) has shown it to be effective in combating bacteria and fungus. And a study (17) from China showed that inhaling tea tree oil is a better anti-fungal than the medicine fluconazole and similar to penicillin, both on a rat model of pneumonia.
This is very important as we live in an age where antibiotic overuse has led to drug resistance, when a bacteria, a fungus, or a virus can become completely resistant to drugs – creating a superbug that can withstand all treatment. In fact, in 2015, the White House created an action plan (18) supporting the development of “non-traditional approaches.” Tea tree oil can be an important tool in your kit!
Application: Add a drop to your favorite diffuser blends. Add 1 drop of tea tree and 1 drop of oregano essential oils to a gel capsule filled with a carrier oil and consume. For people battling a serious illness, consider taking up two capsules a day.
Best known for relieving stress, headaches, and anxiety, lavender essential oil may also be beneficial for people suffering from asthma. In 2017, scientists in Japan tested (19) lavender essential oil and its main constituents, linalyl acetate and linalool, on a mouse model of asthma. They concluded that it had potential as an anti-inflammatory for asthma and respiratory patients.
Lavender is a flexible oil that blends well with many other oils with a long history in both traditional medicine and modern research.
Application: Use as part of our Good-Bye Allergy Blend, adding equal parts of lavender, lemon, and peppermint oils to your diffuser for a synergistic approach to clearing your sinuses.
A 2001 study (12) from Japan tested the effects of essential oils against numerous bacteria, including Streptococcus pneumoniae, a common cause of pneumonia. Among 14 tested oils, thyme essential oil was one of three that had the highest activity against the pathogens that were studied.
Thyme oil has also been shown (19) to have immune-boosting properties, so we think this is a great choice for diffusion as well as many other practical uses in and around your home!
Application: Add 1-2 drops each of thyme, peppermint, and lemon oils to your diffuser for an energizing and disinfecting effect. You can also add a few drops of thyme to a spritz bottle of 190 proof grain alcohol for topical disinfecting, particularly on your kitchen counters.
8. Cinnamon Bark
Cinnamon bark essential oil was another one of the 14 tested (12) for certain pathogens, including bacteria linked to certain types of flu and pneumonia diseases. Cinnamaldehyde, its major constituent, showed some of the highest activity inhibiting the growth of these strains. It also has many other benefits, and is the subject of over 80 studies (21) researching its ability to inhibit cancer and tumors!
Be sure to buy cinnamon bark oil and not cinnamon leaf oil, as they are composed of very different constituents. This warm, spicy oil has been known as a sensitizer so be careful to dilute it properly when using.
The third essential oil that performed with top scores in the study (12) on respiratory pathogens is lemongrass. This should be no surprise since lemongrass oil has a long history in traditional medicine in many cultures. Modern research, however, has studied lemongrass oil for its antimicrobial applications in food safety, (27) as well as its ability to combat antibiotic-resistant airborne pathogens, such as MRSA.
Lemongrass has many other benefits, but be careful. It is usually safe but if you have sensitive skin, you may react with a rash or discomfort. Always dilute essential oils properly before using them on your skin.
Application: Diffuse equal parts lemongrass and geranium essential oils to clear your air.
Clove essential oil has antifungal, antibacterial, and antiseptic properties and is an excellent choice for dental health. The aromatic extract derived from the clove flower bud of Syzygium aromaticum has proven (22) helpful in preventing asthma in laboratory rats.
Note that clove oil does not mix well with certain medications, such as blood thinners, so check with your physician before using if this impacts you. It is a very potent oil so be sure to properly dilute it whenever you are using it.
Application: Experts estimate that 80% of disease symptoms are caused by problems in the mouth, so starting an oil pulling routine can help keep you healthy. Add 1 drop each of clove, and peppermint oils to 1 tablespoon of coconut oil and swish it around your mouth for 15 minutes. You can do this 3-4 times per week. Be careful not to get any undiluted clove on your skin or mouth, as it can burn.
Chinese researchers (23) investigated the effects of different doses of mandarin essential oil on a rat model of pulmonary fibrosis once per day for four weeks. Rats treated with mandarin oil had less lung inflammation and better fibrosis scores than those who were not.
But that’s not all that’s great about this oil! Mandarin essential oil was also tested (24), in conjunction with geranium and lavender oils, on 39 dementia patients and found to provide the following impact:
- Increased alertness and contentment
- Increased sleep at night
- Reduced levels of agitation, withdrawal, and wandering
While this is a small study, mandarin oil may be a good choice for seniors experiencing neurological issues.
Application: Make a safely diluted 2% body oil by adding 4 drops each of lavender, geranium and mandarin essential oils with 2 ounces of a carrier oil like almond oil and apply as a body salve
Orange essential oil is another excellent choice thanks to its superior antioxidant abilities (25). And it’s very versatile, easy to use, and affordable. If I had to choose, I’d select this affordable oil over many of the high-priced oils, especially if you are just getting started! It has proven (26) anti-inflammatory benefits for the respiratory tract when blended with aloe, coconut, and peppermint oils, and vitamin E.
Application: Add 40 drops of orange essential oil to 8 ounces of grain alcohol as a safe disinfectant to clean moldy showers and germy countertops.