Can Essential Oils Treat Sinus Congestion?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Overview

Sinus congestion is uncomfortable to say the least. It may make it difficult for you to breathe or sleep. It may also cause painful pressure behind your eyes, make your nose run constantly, or cause an annoying cough. Some essential oils may clear up nasal passages and relieve sinus pressure and other congestion symptoms.

The benefits of essential oils

Essential oils have been used for centuries as a natural way to support emotional and physical health. When people become wary about synthetic medications, they often turn to natural remedies such as essential oils.

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Some people use over-the-counter (OTC) decongestants or antibiotics to treat sinus congestion and sinus infections. These remedies aren’t for everyone. OTC decongestants can interact with prescription medications and aren’t recommended for people with multiple conditions, such as pregnancy or high blood pressure.

They can cause side effects, such as:

  • drowsiness
  • headaches
  • restlessness
  • high blood pressure
  • rapid heart rate

Essential oils are an alternative treatment for sinus congestion that occurs due to:

  • allergies
  • bacteria
  • inflammation
  • the common cold

Some oils may relieve symptoms, such as:

  • congestion
  • inflammation
  • a cough

What the research says

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There isn’t a lot of reliable research about essential oils and sinus congestion. Some studies suggest specific essential oils may relieve symptoms.

A 2006 review found that tea tree, or melaleuca, oil has antiseptic, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. Because sinus tissue inflammation and bacteria are often the culprits of sinus congestion, tea tree oil may help.

Researchers in a 2009 study found that 1,8 cineole, which is the main component of eucalyptus oil, is an effective and safe treatment for sinusitis that doesn’t include antibiotics. According to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA), 1,8 cineole helps clear the air of bacteria and other microbes. It can also help clear airways of mucus and is a natural cough suppressant.

The main compound in peppermint oil is menthol. Menthol is in certain OTC remedies, such as vapor rubs, lozenges, and nasal inhalers. Studies show menthol may be more likely to increase congestion than decrease it. Menthol produces a cooling sensation, leading users to believe their nasal passages are clearer and they’re breathing better, even though the passages are still congested.

How to use essential oils to relieve congestion

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The best way to use essential oils to relieve a stuffy nose is through inhalation. You can inhale oils in a number of ways.

Steam inhalation involves combining essential oils with hot water to create therapeutic steam. NAHA recommends adding three to seven drops of essential oil to boiling water in a large pot or heatproof bowl. Use a towel to cover your head, and breathe through your nose for no more than two minutes at a time. Keep your eyes closed to prevent eye irritation.

Direct inhalation refers to inhaling the essential oil right from the bottle. You may also add a drop of oil to a handkerchief, cotton ball, or inhaler tube, and breathe it in.

Diffusers disperse essential oils throughout the air, allowing them to dilute before being inhaled. This is a less potent method of inhalation.

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For an aromatherapy bath, add a few drops of diluted essential oil to your bathwater.

For an aromatherapy massage, add a few drops of essential oil to your favorite massage lotion or massage oil.

Risks and warnings

You shouldn’t apply essential oils directly to your skin. You should always dilute them with a carrier oil, water, or lotion. Popular carrier oils include jojoba oil, sweet almond oil, and olive oil. Using them directly on the skin may cause:

  • burns
  • irritation
  • a rash
  • itchiness

Perform a skin patch test before use.

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Essential oils are powerful. When they’re inhaled in small doses for brief periods, most are generally considered safe. If you inhale them in high doses or for long periods, you may experience dizziness, a headache, and nausea.

You shouldn’t ingest essential oils. They contain strong compounds that may cause toxic side effects. Some side effects may not be noticeable right away. Essential oils may also interact with prescription and OTC medications.

These oils shouldn’t be administered to children. Women who are pregnant shouldn’t use them.

Other treatments for sinus congestion

Essential oils and decongestants aren’t the only way to treat sinus congestion. Other options include using:

  • a humidifier to add moisture to the air
  • a steam shower or a saline nasal spray to thin nasal mucus
  • a neti pot to flush nasal mucus
  • a warm compress on your forehead and nose, which can ease inflammation
  • allergy medication if congestion is caused by hay fever or other allergies
  • nasal strips, which can help open up your nasal passages

What you can do now for congestion relief

If you have sinus congestion, make sure you eat a healthy diet. Avoid dairy, chocolate, and processed foods. They may increase mucus production. Make sure you’re drinking enough fluids to help thin your nasal mucus. Put a humidifier in your bedroom to increase the humidity while you sleep.

If you have any of these essential oils on hand, try steam inhaling them a few times per day:

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