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It’s hard to enjoy the beauty of spring when you suffer from seasonal allergies. Sometimes referred to as allergic rhinitis, seasonal allergies can leave your nose stuffy, your eyes watering, and your head feeling heavy.
While there are plenty of over-the-counter medications available to help ease your discomfort, many people don’t realize you can use essential oils for seasonal allergies. Essential oils can harness natural ingredients to provide you with relief from allergy symptoms, and in addition to being all-natural, they’re super versatile and easy to use.
Since essential oils are so concentrated, they’re potent, which can be a bad thing if you use them incorrectly. It’s important that you educate yourself on them before you use them. HealthyWay spoke to several experts about how to safely and effectively use essential oils for seasonal allergies, so you can learn and implement the best practices.
What’s causing my seasonal allergies?
When we have an allergic reaction to something, it’s because our immune system perceives that thing to be a threat. “Histamines are present in mast cells, which are a part of our immune system,” says Nada Milosavljevic, MD, a Harvard-trained physician and the founder of Sage Tonic. “When the histamines are released and travel to an area of the body that the allergen has affected, they cause a localized inflammatory response to occur,” she explains. In other words, your body inflames itself to try to get rid of the allergen, even though the allergen—like pollen, for example—wouldn’t otherwise be a threat to your health.
“Seasonal allergies, also known as allergic rhinitis, [are] characterized by a runny nose, nasal congestion or swelling, itchy nose and throat, and sneezing,” Milosavljevic explains. Antihistamines work by suppressing the effects of histamines, thus soothing a lot of the symptoms associated with allergies.
—Rob Brown, MD
“Frankincense is an effective anti-inflammatory agent targeting the airways and sinuses.”
—Rob Brown, MD
When it comes to using essential oils for seasonal allergies, you want to look for oils that will reduce your symptoms by clearing your nasal passages and reducing pain and inflammation in your airways. While essential oils aren’t as strong as most over-the-counter antihistamines, they can provide you with relief.
Which essential oils ease the symptoms of seasonal allergies?
Many essential oils can ease the symptoms of seasonal allergies. Some are known to soothe painful and inflamed sinuses, while others can alleviate the irritation of itchy throats and runny noses.
Eucalyptus essential oil is anti-inflammatory and an analgesic, meaning it reduces pain. Along with peppermint oil, studies suggest eucalyptus oil is great for reducing headaches. For those of us who struggle with inflamed airways and painful sinuses during the allergy season, this can be incredibly helpful. Additionally, eucalyptus can be a powerful decongestant when inhaled, meaning it can help open up that stuffy nose.
“Frankincense is an effective anti-inflammatory agent targeting the airways and sinuses,” says Rob Brown, MD, author of Toxic Home, Conscious Home: A Mindful Approach To Wellness At Home. A 2016 study corroborates Brown’s point as it shows that inhaling aromatherapy oils including frankincense, Ravensara, and sandalwood could greatly reduce symptoms in people with perennial allergic rhinitis, that is, constant seasonal allergies.
A well-loved essential oil, lavender can also be effective in fighting the symptoms of allergies. A 2014 study conducted on mice showed that lavender essential oil reduces airway inflammation and the production of mucus in the nose, and another study showed it could reduce allergy symptoms. However, further research will need to be conducted to prove its efficacy in human allergy symptom relief.
According to a resource hosted by Western Michigan University, “lemon oil may actually be the most powerful anti-microbial agent of all the essential oils.” It is known to kill certain airborne bacteria, which means it’s great to add to your diffuser. Milosavljevic recommends lemon oil not only for allergies but also for treating stomach aches and supporting the immune system.
Milosavljevic recommends peppermint oil for seasonal allergies as it can help clear your nasal passages and reduce sinus-induced headaches. A 2001 study on rats suggested that peppermint oil can greatly reduce the symptoms of allergic rhinitis, and another study from the early ’90s showed that peppermint oil provides relief from headaches.
Rosemary is another fantastic essential oil for soothing seasonal allergies, says Brown. “Rosemary has antimicrobial properties and can reduce respiratory tract inflammation associated with allergies,” he explains.
Loving the idea of getting relief from these essential oils? There are many other natural antihistamines out there that you can use in conjunction with them to maximize your recovery from the onslaught of seasonal allergies.
How should I use essential oils for seasonal allergies?
Essential oils are super versatile, and they can be used in a number of different ways. “Some can be ingested, used to make tea, or placed in boiling water and inhaled as an herbal steam. Experiment, and see which works best for you,” Brown suggests.
If you want to harness the antimicrobial properties of essential oils like eucalyptus, tea tree, or rosemary, you can add them to a diffuser to make the most of their diffuse airborne effects, or mix essential oil-infused cleaning solutions for countertops, floors, and other hard surfaces.
—Rob Brown, MD
“Some can be ingested, used to make tea, or placed in boiling water and inhaled as an herbal steam. Experiment, and see which works best for you.”
—Rob Brown, MD
If you’re more interested in using essential oils as a decongestant or anti-inflammatory, inhaling them might be best. Place a few drops of essential oil in warm water and inhale the vapors, or add some to your bath. Alternatively, apply some essential oil to a washcloth, hold it to your face, and inhale. “You can inhale them by placing the oil on a towelette, [or] use a diffuser for covering a larger space such as your bedroom or office,” Milosavljevic explains.
Milosavljevic also notes that many essential oils can be applied to your skin. “If topical application is used, they should be blended in a carrier oil as they are potent and can irritate the skin if applied directly in full strength,” she says. Carrier oils are used to dilute essential oils, and some of our favorites include coconut oil, olive oil, and jojoba oil. Try adding a blend of your favorite essential oil mixed into a carrier oil to your pulse points, or give yourself an aromatherapy massage.
Which safety precautions should I follow when using essential oils for seasonal allergies?
Because essential oils are so concentrated, they’re very potent. While this means that they can be super effective, it can also make them dangerous when used incorrectly.
If you want to apply essential oil to your skin, make sure you don’t have a sensitivity to it. You might not even realize that you’re allergic to an oil, but because they’re so potent, they might cause a noticeable reaction. Apply the oil to a small patch of your skin, and see if it causes a reaction before applying it to a larger area.
It’s often advised to avoid using essential oils during pregnancy, Milosavljevic says. While some oils, like ginger, are typically considered safe for pregnancy, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to verify this. There are few randomized control trials on essential oils in pregnancy. For this reason, many clinicians avoid recommending them for pregnant patients, she says. “Sensitivity can be heightened during pregnancy, and various compounds can be transmitted to the newborn during lactation. For this reason, it’s always best to evaluate each case individually,” she says.
Something else to keep in mind when using essential oils is the health of your pets. If you have pets, make sure that the essential oils you use won’t harm them. This is especially important if you use oils in a diffuser or an oil burner, or when washing their bedding or floors. Cats, for example, can have a strong reaction to citrus, eucalyptus, and peppermint essential oils. Research each essential oil individually before using it around animals, and consult a veterinarian if you’re not sure.
Regardless of your goals or who you share your home with, Brown strongly suggests you speak to your doctor before introducing essential oils into your routine.
You need to exercise caution when you use essential oils, but if you use them correctly, they can provide you a great deal of relief during allergy season. Remember that in some cases, you might need to use something a little stronger to keep your allergies at bay. “Everyone has a different threshold for tolerating the effects of seasonal allergies,” Brown says. “If you experiment with essentials and do not experience relief, it might be time to explore additional options.”