Steam Inhalation With Eucalyptus Oil

Can adding eucalyptus oil to a bath, shower, or inhalation ease your congestion?

Steam inhalation with eucalyptus oil.
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Aromatherapy essential oils can be used in a variety of ways at home, such as in body lotions or massage oil. Eucalyptus oil, one of the more popular essential oils, is often used to ease congestion and other cold symptoms. It is said to work best when it is combined with some form of steam inhalation. Here are several common ways to use it:

1) Eucalyptus Oil in a Bath or Shower

Using eucalyptus oil in a warm bath or shower is the easiest way to create an at-home steam inhalation. To do it, you would add two to three drops of the essential oil to your bath just before getting in. If you're taking a shower, you would place two to three drops of the essential oil onto a wet washcloth. When the warm water of the shower heats the washcloth, the vaporized oil is released.

2) Eucalyptus Oil in a Bowl of Warm Water

Another method involves adding a drop of eucalyptus oil to a mug or small bowl of hot water and standing over the bowl for a short period so that you can gently inhale the eucalyptus-infused steam.

To try a steam inhalation, you would place one to two drops of eucalyptus essential oil in a bowl of hot water. (The bowl should be on a stable surface and out of reach of children and pets.) With your head at least an arm's length away from the bowl, you would put a towel over your head to focus the steam.

Closing your eyes and breathing in would allow the vapor to enter your nose. Regular breaks (stopping immediately if you feel overheated or uncomfortable) are recommended, and it shouldn't be done for more than five to ten minutes.

3) Eucalyptus Oil in a Steam Inhaler

There are a number of electric personal steam inhalers available at drugstores and household goods stores. Some of them come with scented pads or packets to add menthol and other scents to the steam, however, many are made with synthetic scents rather than pure essential oils.

You shouldn't add pure essential oils to an electric personal steam inhaler unless it is intended to be used that way. Essential oils can break down plastic. 

The Research on Steam Inhalation

While a steam inhalation can feel deeply soothing, research suggests that it may not be effective at relieving symptoms. For a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, for instance, researchers examined the use of daily steam inhalation, daily nasal saline irrigation, combined treatment with nasal saline irrigation and daily steam inhalation, or usual care in people with chronic or recurrent sinus symptoms. At the study's end, researchers found that those who did the steam inhalation had reduced headache but had no other improvement in symptoms.

In a report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2013, scientists sized up six previously published clinical trials (including 294 men or women) on the effects of inhaling steam in the treatment of the common cold. The researchers found that in some studies, steam inhalation relieved symptoms, however, in others it did not. Their conclusion was that there isn't enough evidence to support steam inhalation to relieve common cold symptoms.

Side Effects and Safety

Although doing a steam inhalation may seem like a completely safe home remedy, there are side effects and safety concerns.

Side effects may include headache, dizziness, nausea, tiredness, and nasal discomfort and irritation.

There is also a risk of burns from the steam or the hot water during a steam inhalation. Children are at a greater risk due to their developing motor skills. Infants, children, and older adults are also at a higher risk because they may not be able to respond appropriately to the heat.

In a study published in The British Journal of General Practice, researchers studied the records of people who were seen at a regional burn center for steam inhalation burns and sent a survey to 150 local primary care providers asking whether they recommended steam inhalation to their patients.

On average, three children per year were admitted at the burn center with steam inhalation burns for the five-year period studied. While most children required dressings, one child required surgery. In their conclusion, the researchers stated that "Its practice continues to be recommended by GPs but children...are at significant risk of burn injuries and this practice should no longer be recommended".

A case report published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine in 2014 described a child who had a steam inhalation and suffered airway injury and thermal epiglottitis (a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when heat causes the cartilage covering your windpipe to swell and obstruct air flow into the lungs).

Essential oils shouldn't be ingested, applied directly to the skin, or used in excess of recommended amounts. Certain people may need to avoid eucalyptus steam inhalation, such as those with heart conditions or central nervous system disorders, and pregnant women. Find out more about using essential oils safely.

Children and pets should be kept away from containers of hot water to avoid scalds and burns and essential oil poisoning. Bowls and containers containing the liquid should be clearly labeled and not left unattended. The liquid should be immediately discarded after use to avoid accidental ingestion.

Burns can also occur when handling the hot water.

A steam inhalation shouldn't be used in place of standard treatment for any condition.

A Word From Verywell

The warm steam of a bath or shower can be incredibly relaxing and soothing after a long day. You may even find that the steam helps to loosen up a stuffy nose.

But when it comes to doing a steam inhalation by pouring hot water from a kettle or pot into a bowl, there is a risk of burn injuries from the hot water (while preparing the inhalation) or from the steam, especially with young children or older adults. The risk may be reduced somewhat by using a small container (like an old mug or small bowl instead of a large bowl) or using a personal steam inhaler.

Given that more research is needed from large-scale clinical trials, you may be better off getting steam from warm baths or showers rather than from a steam inhalation. If you're still considering trying it, be sure to consult your health care provider to make sure that it's right for you.

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Article Sources
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