Tuesday, November 4, 2014

My Experience with Diffusing Essential Oils

I just wanted to share my experience with diffusing essential oils in our home.  In researching what happened to my family, I found little information online about the possible negative effects of the oils, but I found plenty of personal experiences and questions like my own in forums being discounted by representatives of different oil companies.  

I've been using various essential oils for several years now, mostly for cleaning purposes or to add fragrance to my homemade lotions and chapsticks.  Tea tree oil has been helpful with cloth diapering and I have loved adding some lavender or eucalyptus to things like homemade bath salts for wonderful fragrance.

As a lover of alternative medicine and natural healing, I was very excited when everyone around me started talking about essential oils being used in place of over-the-counter medications for minor health complaints like headaches and runny noses.  I'm willing to give just about anything a chance, so when my kids' sitter started selling doTerra, I decided to purchase a few items from her.  I never went into it thinking they would cure cancer, but I was hopeful that they could help alleviate the symptoms of things like a cold or sleeplessness.

My first purchase was doTerra's insect repellent blend, TerraShield.  After spending a very uncomfortable Memorial Day weekend camping with my family and ending up covered head to toe with bug bites because I wasn't willing to spray us down with traditional bug sprays, I was willing to give this a shot.  For our Fourth of July camping trip I applied the bug blend to the kids and they didn't seem to be as eaten up after the trip.  I'm not sure if that speaks to the effectiveness of the product or the fact that there were less bugs around on that particular trip.

After that I decided to buy a few other products from my friend - the Balance blend and the Past Tense roller for headaches.  Balance smelled good - I bought it because I thought it would be a good thing to have on hand in a house with four small children.  I can always use some balance!  Past Tense was my favorite product by far.  If I felt a small headache coming on, there was something soothing about the tingles I would get on my temples and neck where I rolled on the oils.  It's not that the headaches went away; I just think the pleasant smells and tingles distracted me long enough to feel better.

After that I bought OnGuard, hoping it would help our house remain healthy this winter, as well as various oils that smell nice to me - lavender, eucalyptus, rosemary, etc.

One day, while babysitting my sick children, our sitter brought over her oil diffuser.  She said that diffusing the OnGuard into the air would help to purify it and keep the healthy children from catching the bug that was beginning to sweep through the house.  When my oldest son started coughing that night, I didn't connect the diffused oils to it at all and just assumed a cough was part of whatever sickness his body was fighting off.  I also began to experience a tightness in my chest, but discounted it as my body beginning to come down with the bug.

It's now been a month since we bought the diffuser and I've tried different oils with the same effect every single time - someone in the house ends up wheezing and coughing.  At first I thought it might be that I was just adding too much oil to the water, so I decreased it to only one drop, but that didn't make a difference.  Then I stopped diffusing anything with peppermint and eucalyptus in it, as some literature I read said that those oils should not be used around children (they can cause respiratory issues).  That meant no more OnGuard in the house.

Soon even things like lavender and lemon, which I was simply diffusing through the house to give it a nice smell, were beginning to bother my husband (who had asthma as a child), me, and my oldest son.  I would describe the feeling that I get as the same I have experienced after cleaning with harsh chemicals.  It's as if my lungs are irritated and burning. 

It is very difficult to find literature about the safety of these essential oils.  I've asked several people affiliated with doTerra about the safety of their use, especially around children.  All of them have assured me that they are safe to use because they are natural.  But just because something is natural, it doesn't mean it is healthy for everyone, right?

In trying to research the safety of the essential oils, I've come across lots of information about side effects in pregnant and nursing women, as well as small children.  As a nursing mother with many small children, these are things I didn't even think about before I starting rubbing these oils on myself and my babies.  I'm thankful now that we didn't start ingesting them without doing any research.

I feel like in the natural/alternative health community, we are quick to dismiss criticism and we assume that things that come from nature have to be good for us, while anything made in a laboratory is bad.  We forget that things like essential oils, which are concentrated far beyond how one would find them in nature, are just as potent and dangerous to some people as pharmaceutical drugs.  We wouldn't just give our children dosages of random drugs given to us by friends without researching their safety, so we need to treat the essential oils the same way.

We are no longer diffusing oils in the house.  Yesterday was my last attempt and after only ten minutes with the diffuser on, filled with oils that are not supposed to be unsafe for kids or cause respiratory distress, my son was coughing and complaining of shortness of breath, my husband said he was starting to wheeze, and my lungs were starting to burn.  Perhaps others can handle the oils, but it sounds like they are an irritant for members of my family.  And the response to the inhalation of oils has me questioning the safety of applying the oils topically.  Some of these oils are capable of melting plastic, so I'm not sure they should be used without proper training on the sensitive skin of children.  We will, however, continue to use the oils for things like cleaning and other home maintenance (bug repellent or adhesive removal - stuff like that).

From now on, if my children are fighting a cold, we'll go back to using herbal teas to help with symptoms - something that used to work for us with great success.  A warm cup of peppermint tea is much less potent than the concentrated peppermint oil and can have the same effect.  And if I'm looking for a safe alternative to synthetic fragrances to make my home smell better, I'll go back to simmering cinnamon sticks and orange peels on my stove.  They smell just as good and I've never had trouble breathing from them.

Since the Internet seemed to be lacking in information about the downsides to essential oil usage, I thought I would share my experience.  This is just that - my experience - and I firmly believe we are all created differently, so some bodies may be capable of handling the diffused oils.  Perhaps there is something in our home already irritating our lungs and making it hard to tolerate the oils.  Or maybe we have allergies or sensitivities most people don't have (as a food and seasonal allergy family, that could be likely).  I would just warn anyone reading this to research what oils you are using on your family members before using them and make sure to educate yourself on the proper use of them before doing so.  Proceed with caution in the same way you would with any other drug or supplement.