Menu

What to Know About Essential Oils for Coughs

Essential oils are made by extracting and concentrating oils from plants. Plants have phytochemicals that can have many health benefits.  

As more bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, some researchers are looking for a solution by studying the antiviral and antibacterial properties of essential oils. Here’s what to know about using them for a cough or a respiratory tract infection.

How to Use Essential Oils to Treat Coughs

Essential oils are used as part of aromatherapy. You can inhale them in a number of ways:

Straight from the bottle. This is the simplest method. Just open the bottle and take some deep breaths.  

Steam inhalation. Fill a bowl with hot water and add a few drops of essential oils. Bend your head over the bowl, put a towel over your head and the bowl, and breathe deeply.   

Evaporation. Put a few drops on a cotton ball and inhale as the oil evaporates.  

Diffuser. A diffuser releases small particles of oil into the room. To use it, mix water and essential oils and turn on the diffuser. The instructions will tell you what water-to essential-oil-ratio to use.  

Apply topically. Don’t put essential oils directly on your skin. Instead, dilute them first with another oil like jojoba or coconut oil. You can put the mixture in a roller bottle to make it easier to use.

Which Are the Best Essential Oils for Coughing?

If the cough from bronchitis or a respiratory tract infection is making you miserable, talk to your doctor about trying:

Eucalyptus oil. Eucalyptus oil has cineole, which has been shown to have antimicrobial effects. It has a good safety record and a long history of use. It's the main active ingredient in vapor rubs sold over the counter. Eucalyptus oil can be useful when you have respiratory problems like bronchitis, asthma, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Thyme oil.  Thyme essential oil has carvacrol and thymol. It has an antibacterial effect against respiratory bacteria. It's used to help respiratory disorders such as bronchitis and pertussis. 

Rosemary oil. Rosemary oil also has cineole and has many of the same benefits as eucalyptus oil. You might prefer the scent of rosemary instead of the stronger eucalyptus. In one study, people with bronchitis felt better when treated with cineole.

Lavender oil. Lavender oil has anti-inflammatory properties. It may help calm cough, especially if it's from asthma. Lavender has been shown to help with the symptoms of bronchial asthma.

Cinnamon oil. Cinnamon oil has antibacterial properties. It may help stop the growth of bacteria that cause respiratory diseases.

Risks of Treating Coughs With Essential Oils

Some essential oils are not safe for children or pregnant women. Be careful when using essential oils around older people or people with weakened immune systems. Don’t eat or swallow essential oils without talking to your doctor first.    

Tea tree oil is neurotoxic and shouldn't be diffused around children or pets. Some essential oils can have serious side effects when used in excess. For example, tea tree oil and eucalyptus oil have been known to cause seizures.  

Essential oils are not regulated by the FDA, so it's important to buy them from a trusted source. Look for ones that are: 

  • Labeled 100% pure
  • Stored in a dark glass bottle
  • Sold in small quantities of 4 ounces or less
  • Labeled with information about the oil's source
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Alternative Medicine Review: "Immune-modifying and antimicrobial effects of Eucalyptus oil and simple inhalation devices."

Cleveland Clinic: "Essential Oils 101: Do They Work + How Do You Use Them?"

Cough: "Efficacy of cineole in patients suffering from acute bronchitis: a placebo-controlled double-blind trial."

Flavour and Fragrance Journal: "Essential oils in the treatment of respiratory tract diseases highlighting their role in bacterial infections and their anti‐inflammatory action: a review."

Life Sciences: "Lavender essential oil inhalation suppresses allergic airway inflammation and mucous cell hyperplasia in a murine model of asthma."

Trends in Food Science and Technology: "Revisiting an ancient spice with medicinal purposes: Cinnamon."

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.