Springtime is a time of renewed warmth and beauty. While the winter sniffles have hopefully come and gone, there is a new respiratory issue on the horizon, seasonal allergies. With the blooming flowers comes a boom in stuffy heads and itchy eyes. For children, these symptoms can keep them indoors when all they want to do is go outside, soak in the sun, and play in the warmer weather. More parents are looking for natural options to help ease the symptoms of allergies. Let’s explore what we can do to help get these children playing back in nature where they belong!
What causes seasonal allergies? The biggest contributor to seasonal allergies is pollen. When this allergen enters the body, the immune system thinks it’s an invader and attacks by releasing histamines into the blood. This causes the symptoms often associated with seasonal allergies.
The symptoms of seasonal allergies can include:
- Itchy eyes, nose, or throat
- Nasal congestion/Stuffy head
- Clear, runny nose
These symptoms can come on suddenly and last until the allergens are gone. They can start at a young age and disappear, only to reappear in your twenties. Sometimes allergies can induce asthma. If your child is taking any medications for allergies or another ailment, please consult with a qualified aromatherapist to check for contraindications. It is also advised to tell your pediatrician that you use essential oils.
Essential oils are powerful and have special precautions when using them with children. They are not to be feared but to be treated with the utmost respect. Please refer to this article to learn about essential oil safety and children:
Just like the usage guidelines are different for children, there is also a separate list of child appropriate oils. While some of the oils traditionally used for respiratory issues may be your first instinct, several of them have special precautions or contraindications for children. These oils include:
- Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) is a BIG no-no for children under three years. Peppermint contains a large amount of menthol. Menthol stimulates cold receptors in the lungs. This triggers a reflex in young children, which slows breathing significantly, sometimes dangerously. (1)
- Oils high in 1,8 cineole, such as eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus/radiata), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ct cineole), and ravintsara (Cinnamomum camphora). While these oils can be very helpful in supporting the respiratory system in adults, they can cause central nervous system and breathing problems in small children when overused. They should not be applied on or close to the faces of children under 10. (1)
- Oils high in camphor, such a spike lavender (Lavandula latifolia) should not be placed into or near the noses of infants, as this can lead to respiratory collapse. (2)
- Any immune blend of cinnamon/clove/eucalyptus/rosemary. There are several contraindications with the oils in these blends for children. You've learned about eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus/radiata) and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ct cineole) above. Clove (Eugenia caryophyllata) is contraindicated in children under two and cinnamon bark (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) is a dermal sensitizer. (1)
- Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica)-This is my go-to oil and favorite base note for respiratory support in children. Its decongestant activity combined with it expectorant abilities make it a superior choice. It seems to really pack a punch by stimulating the respiratory system. It has a soothing energy to it, reminiscent of a warm hug. It blends beautifully with sweet orange and lavender.
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)- True lavender contains linalool, which can have anti-inflammatory actions that may help relieve tissue congestion. (3) It also has anti-allergic activity. (4) Lavender is a gentle choice with an aroma that many children find pleasing on its own. It can help bring balance to the body. Using lavender in your blend can also enhance immune function.
- Frankincense (Boswellia carterii)- Frankincense can help to open up breathing airways and help with the spastic cough that can creep up during allergy season. Its presence of d-limonene can give it an anti-inflammatory effect (5) while offering immune support (6). Not exactly a child’s favorite aroma but pair it with a citrus oil and it will create an aromatically pleasing synergy.
- German chamomile (Matricaria recutita)- German chamomile’s chamazulene content is responsible for its anti-histaminic action. It also has anti-inflammatory properties that can help with an irritated respiratory tract.
- The conifer oils- particularly siberian fir (Abies sibirica) and pinon pine (Pinus edulis) seem to be favored by children. These oils are also rich in alpha-pinene and really allow you to breathe easier. Black spruce (Picea mariana) is good too but I’ve had kids tell me that it smells like Home Depot. ☺ As with any oil, make sure the child smells it first. If they don’t like it, they won’t use it! All oils high in alpha-pinene should be given a cap test prior to using with asthmatics, due to the risk of inducing an attack.
- While tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) is an oil I think of right away to help allergies in adults, I have found that children are not so keen on the aroma. So I like to use Fragonia™ (Agonis fragrans) and rosalina (Melaleuca ericifolia) instead. Fragonia ™ is a very balanced oil with a sweet, fresh aroma. It has almost a perfect balance of oxides (has a moderate 1,8 cineole content), monoterpenes (alpha-pinene, as seen in frankincense and siberian fir) and monoterpenols (linalool and terpinene-4-ol as found in tea tree). Rosalina, also known as lavender tea tree, is gentle yet effective. Its chemical composition of linalool and alpha-pinene with a touch of 1,8 cineole make it an obvious choice for congestion.
- Sweet orange (Citrus sinesis)- I have yet to meet a kid who doesn’t enjoy sweet orange. It brings an element of familiarity and comfort. Its high percentage of d-limonene content and can help support the immune system. Combine it with Fragonia ™ for a delightful aroma.
In respiratory issues, I recommend inhalation before topical use. Inhalation is the fastest, most effective, and safest way for children. An ultrasonic diffuser is a great tool to have in your arsenal with dealing with respiratory issues. But unfortunately, you can’t take a diffuser with you everywhere you go. This is where aromasticks (also known as personal inhalers) come into play. For children five and older, drop 10 or less drops of your blend on the organic cotton wick. Tada! Your child now has his/her own portable “diffuser”. Make it fun by having the kids decorate it with washi tape.
Steam inhalation is an effective way to break up the congestion, allowing the child to breathe easier. This could look like a drop of oil on the shower floor and running hot water while you sit in the bathroom. Or you can make it fun by creating a shower steamer. Shower steamers are made of natural ingredients, usually baking soda and citric acid, which can be molded into fun shapes. You can then drop the essential oil blend right onto the steamer. Kids love to watch it fizz and dissolve in the shower!
Probiotics are another way to support overall health to fight allergies. Probiotics that are found in food-based sources or through supplementation, can help improve your gut flora. Look for fermented foods and drinks like kefir and kombucha. My kids especially enjoy kefir smoothies and think it’s a delicious treat.
Another way to support your child’s terrain is by eliminating harsh synthetic chemicals from your home. Try cleaning around the house with baking soda, vinegar, etc. instead of commercial cleaners. Remove synthetic fragrance-laden items such as plug-ins and sprays. Look at your laundry detergent and try to choose fragrance-free or one with naturally derived ingredients.
Support your child’s immune system with a diet full of nutrient dense foods and fewer refined carbohydrates. We are what we eat! A weakened immune system can aggravate allergy symptoms. Implementing simple changes by focusing on nutrition, exercise, hydration, and sleep can help maximize health benefits. By incorporating a balanced approach with aromatherapy and healthy lifestyle choices, your child has a fighting chance against seasonal allergies.
(1) Tisserand, Robert and Young, Rodney (2014), Essential Oil Safety. London: Churchill Livingston.
(2) Love, JN. Sammon, M., Smereck, J. (2004)Are one or two dangerous? Camphor exposure in toddlers. J. Emerg. Med. 27, 49-54
(3) Rivot, J. P., Montagne-Clavel, J. and Besson, J. M. (2002) Subcutaneous formalin and carrageenan increase nitric acid release as measured by in vivo voltammetry in the spinal cord. European Journal of Pain 6, 25-34.
(4) Kim, H.M. and Cho, S.H. (1999) Lavender oil inhibits immediate-type allergic reaction in mice and rats. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 51, 221-226.
(5) Hirota, R., Roger, N.N., Nakamura, H., Song, H.-S., Sawamura, M., and Suganuma, N. (2010) Anti-inflammatory effects of limonene from yuzu (Citrus junos Tanaka) essential oil on eosinophils. Journal of Food Science 75, 87-92
6) Del Toro-Arreola S, Flores-Torales E, Torres-Lozano (2005) Effect of d-limonene on immune response in BALB/c mice with lymphoma. International Immunopharmacology 5:829-838