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How essential oils help relieve colds & flu whilst training

Words: Doryce Sher, registered Pharmacist and Aromatherapist

With winter in full swing and the onset of colds and flu imminent, it is the season where we seek out preventative advice and remedies. Because being sick for even a week can bring any well planned and executed training programme to a grinding halt.

This winter, rather than turning to a pill to fix that ill, why not turn to nature instead? The use of essential oils for relief of respiratory infections has been in practice for centuries due to their antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, their effectiveness and the fact that these plant-derived essential oils are relatively inexpensive, easy to come by and practical to apply. And for those of us who are working towards a fitness goal, the good news is that essential oils also be used preventatively as an immune booster.

Essential oils are practical for respiratory infections because they are volatile, which means they naturally vaporise in the air. When used in conjunction with steam or dry heat, they become more volatile and are able to act on the airways directly. The particles that vaporise can be inhaled through the nose or mouth and have an effect on mucous membranes and the bronchi, right into the lungs. Their effect is as an expectorant – they increase mucous production (mucolytic), dilating or opening airways, and can be antispasmodic and anti-infectious.

The heroes

Certain essential oils are used to relieve respiratory infections, the most popular being eucalyptus. Others such as tea tree, lavender, pine, thyme, peppermint and benzoin are also effective.

Eucalyptus, one of the favourites to get rid of winter bugs, is effective to use preventatively as an immune booster. It is mucolytic and helps to rid the airways of dryness and trap infectious particles that are then coughed out.

Tea tree has well known anti-infectious properties against bacteria, microbes and fungi. It is also non-irritant to mucous surfaces that line the respiratory tracts, so it's perfect in small concentrations for infections in the nose, throat or chest.

Peppermint is very effective for opening the airways of the respiratory system. Its main constituent is menthol, which has a very soothing effect on the nose, throat and chest. Lavender has many uses, but on the respiratory system it has anti-infectious properties. As well as being an expectorant, it soothes the mucous membranes, which is especially beneficial when treating irritated mucosa (lining of the nose, throat and chest) associated with allergies.


The oils can be used in a number of ways to treat coughs, colds and flu and the ease and variety of methods of use are an advantage for athletes. They can be used in their concentrated form in an aromatherapy burner, placed in a diffuser, vaporiser, sauna, or even a few drops on the shower floor. Sprinkled on a tissue, the aromas can be inhaled when desired or an inhaler unit may be used.

Essential oils can also be used in a diluted form, mixed into a base or carrier oil, such as a cream or almond oil. The creams or oils can then be massaged into the chest or around the throat or nose, and even around the ears to soothe flu symptoms. Applicators such as mini roll-ons are also useful.

Bath oils or salts used with effective essential oils are wonderfully therapeutic as the steam aides inhalation and absorption of oils into the body.

During a training programme, it is recommended that you use the suggested aromatherapy oils to open up the respiratory tract and strengthen the immune system. Inhaling oils or applying them before or after training assists the body’s natural immune building ability. The advantages are that the metabolism of essential oils in the body is fast, they are quick acting, can be applied locally on the nose or throat or chest, and the side effects of drowsiness (as with conventional decongestants) are avoided.


When essential oils are used, there are a few points to bear in mind:
• Combine oils for maximum effect - Essential oils are effective individually as well as when they are combined with other oils for a synergistic effect. The whole effect is more than the sum of its parts, therefore a mixture of more than one effective respiratory oil is better than a single oil.
• Less is better than more - It must be cautioned that less is better than more. Very little aromatherapy and essential oils are required to have a therapeutic benefit and because of their localised action, an effect or outcome is instant. Too much essential oil can cause irritation and because the oils are inhaled directly into the nose, mouth and lungs, small quantities go a long way.
• Dilute oils properly - It is advisable to only use oils on the skin if they have been properly diluted. Moreover, if there is any adverse effect, the use should be terminated immediately.
• Caution - The oils can be used for symptoms of colds and flu, however athletes are often cautioned to avoid exercise when sick. It is suggested to use the oils as recommended to help recover to a healthy state.

Aromatic Apothecary has developed a host of ready-to-use aromatherapy products that provide relief for colds and flu, containing eucalyptus, lavender and tea tree oils. So the next time you don't feel that good, instead of popping a tab, rather fight those germs the natural way with essential oils.

More information
Aromatic Apothecary has more than 180 ready-to-use products that are specially designed and handmade. Turning to the natural world to source active ingredients, only essential oils distilled from flowers, leaves, roots and stems or seeds of many different plants, which act on the mind, body and soul, are used. As a result, the products are therapeutic and provide relief to everyday ailments such as stress, sore muscles, nasal problems, sleeplessness, and counteract the effects of living at the frenetic pace of modern life. For more information and research on aromatherapy contact Doryce Sher, Co-Founder of Aromatic Apothecary on . To view the product range visit www.aromatic.co.za

Doryce Sher, co-founder of Aromatic Apothecary, is one of South Africa’s leading advocates on the regulation of complementary medicine, with a particular interest in Aromatherapy. Serving on and representing various health boards in South Africa, it is her passionate aim to ensure people are aware that there are choices when it comes to health and well-being.

This article is meant to advise for general day to day colds coughs and flu – further treatment may be required in more serious cases. The advice offered is not meant to replace that of a professional medical consultant. Please proceed with caution when it comes to infants under six months, pregnant ladies, elderly or medically compromised persons – a doctor should be consulted when in doubt.