by Pamela Durkin ROHP RNCP
Spring—is any season so welcome? Not if you suffer from the debilitating effects of seasonal allergies. But fear not, all is not gloomy on the seasonal allergy battlefront. Nature has provided us with the perfect weapon to combat the nasty effects of those pesky pollens—essential oils.
Essential oils can not only help alleviate the symptoms of allergies—but also strengthen our immune system so we’re less likely to be plagued by allergic responses. While all essential oils contain a complex mix of healing chemical compounds with various therapeutic effects, there are specific oils that have been clinically indicated for the treatment of allergies.
What is a seasonal allergy?
A seasonal allergy is an allergic reaction to a trigger that is typically only present for part of the year, most commonly spring. Most spring allergies are a response to pollen from trees, which can start pollinating from January to April, depending on the climate and the location.
What are the symptoms?
The usual symptoms of seasonal allergies (also referred to as allergic rhinitis or hay fever) include sneezing, runny nose, congestion, watery bloodshot eyes, fatigue, and itching of the eyes, nose, or skin. In addition, several of the same allergens cause seasonal allergies and asthma. People who suffer from seasonal allergies are up to three times more likely to develop asthma.
Not surprisingly, a survey found that 55 percent of Canadians claim their allergies reduce their productivity at work, and just over 25 percent say they limit time spent outdoors to prevent the onset of symptoms.
How can I get relief?
These statistics are clearly nothing to sneeze at! So how can a sufferer fight back and get relief? Many people rely on antihistamines, the most commonly used drugs for the treatment of allergic reactions. Unfortunately, the side effects of antihistamines can be worse than the allergy symptoms they’re designed to alleviate.
Possible side effects of antihistamines include drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, stomach upset, constipation, dry mouth, and difficulty urinating. Antihistamines have also been associated with abnormal heart rhythms and high blood pressure, although these occurrences are rare. Children and seniors are more likely to experience side effects. Antihistamines are contraindicated for those with heart or liver disease, prostate problems, or glaucoma.
Is there a safe natural alternative?
Itchy, watery eyes
According to Victoria-based certified aromatherapist Anne Deleume Poirier, nothing banishes itchy, red allergy eyes like a compress made with camomile oil. A recent scientific study backs up her recommendation.
Korean researchers found that a topical application of German camomile oil can quell the inflammation and itchiness associated with induced allergic responses in mice. Further research will be conducted to identify the component responsible for this improvement.
In addition, camomile has established a reputation among aromatherapists for its natural sedative, anti-inflammatory, and antihistamine properties.
To relieve itching:
Put 6 to 8 drops of the soothing liquid in your bath to calm both you and your allergy symptoms.
To soothe irritated eyes:
Mix 4 to 6 drops of camomile oil with 7 oz (200 mL) of pure water in a spray bottle. Spray cotton pads liberally with the solution and apply to the eyes 2 to 3 times per day.
Congestion and sinus woes
Deleume Poirier’s go-to oil for congestion is frankincense. Once again science concurs: a study published in the July 2010 issue of Clinical Biochemistry demonstrated that an extract of frankincense, licorice root, and turmeric root had a pronounced effect on the management of bronchial asthma.
Researchers found that this combination had anti-inflammatory, leukotriene-inhibiting properties. (Leukotrienes are fatty molecules of the immune system that contribute to inflammation in asthma and allergic rhinitis.)
No wonder this luxurious oil was prized by the ancient Egyptians. If any part of your respiratory system is irritated or congested, frankincense can bring relief.
To relieve congestion and respiratory complaints:
Apply a few drops of the oil directly under the nose and just over the sinuses. Inhalation and baths are equally effective methods to employ. Mix frankincense with a quality carrier oil such as grapeseed oil, and apply for a soothing and healing massage.
Another immune-boosting essential oil with an affinity for the respiratory system is thyme oil. Several studies have shown thyme oil can help thin mucus; it also acts as an anti-inflammatory and may stimulate the production of white blood cells, thereby strengthening the body’s natural resistance to allergens.
This oil’s heady herbal scent lends a touch of the exotic to inhalations and is effective when released in a diffuser.
Eucalyptus oil’s immune-stimulating properties have also been acknowledged by science. Italian researchers found that the oil has a stimulating effect on innate cell-mediated immune response (BMC Immunology, 2008).
However, caution is required when using eucalyptus—not all varieties of the oil are created equal, according to Deleume Poirier. She notes that Eucalyptus globulus, the most common form of the oil, can cause irritation of the skin and mucous membranes.
Professional aromatherapists prefer the milder Eucalyptus radiata or Eucalyptus smithii varieties, and utilize them in inhalations or diffusers, not as massage treatments. Deleume Poirier recommends ravensara and laurel as two skin-friendly, immune-boosting oils she employs in massage treatment targeted to combat seasonal allergies.
- Perform a patch test before using a new oil; this is crucial, particularly for the allergy prone. Do not use oils “neat” on the skin—mix them in a carrier oil, such as grapeseed, before applying. Put 1 drop of the oil on the back of your wrist, and wait one hour. If irritation or redness occurs, bathe the area in cold water and discontinue use of the oil.
- Only use therapeutic-grade essential oils, not perfume grade, which are adulterated and of poor quality. Organic oils are best; these are available at reputable natural health stores.
- Consult an aromatherapist before using any essential oil if you are pregnant or have a medical condition. Certain oils are contraindicated for these conditions.
About the Author
Pamela Durkin is a freelance writer and registered nutritional consultant based in Victoria, BC.