Sniff Sniff: Inhaling Essential Oils for Their Benefits

Using Essential Oils Through Smelling Them – Is this the best method to use?

By Susan Hilton, RN MSN, Certified Aromatherapist

I’ve just completed the requirements to become certified as an aromatherapist. This was a very involved and challenging course and I am so excited to be finished and certified. I’m also a registered nurse, so I really have two ways to look at using essential oils. First is the traditional way to look at health and wellness through the eyes of a RN, and second is to look through the eyes of a certified aromatherapist. I wrote my research paper on using the inhalation (smelling) method as the best way to get the oil into the body. Using the inhalation method allows 96% of the oil to enter the body through the limbic system.

Olfaction is the medical term for smelling. It is, of course, one of our five senses. All the senses are important, but the sense of smell is something special. When an aroma is “smelled” it is really small molecules naked to the eye that we are sensing. These invisible molecules are sniffed into the nose and come in contact with the olfaction membrane. This sticky member is covered with millions of nerve receptors. When the aroma molecule is captured by the olfaction membrane and a receptor site for the scent molecule is found, an instantaneous message is sent into the limbic system within the brain. This system is comprised of many parts of the brain. The limbic system deals with our emotions and long term memory. It is under unconscious control. The messages that the thalamus, one of the areas in the limbic system, sends to the cerebral cortex is what causes the brain to take action — to create a memory — of the aroma.

There are many ways to inhale these tiny, invisible molecules in essential oils. The simplest way is to open the bottle, bring it up to your nose and sniff the aroma. Some people may want to put a drop in their hand, or on a cotton ball or tissue, and sniff the oil that way. Still others may boil water to infuse the essential oils in steam. Nasal inhalers are another method of inhalation. Single essential oils or a blend of oils can be placed on a cotton wick and inserted in a plastic or aluminum nasal inhaler for you to smell.

A diffuser is a cool mist machine used to diffuse the oils into the air. Most are electric, but a few can run on batteries. There is a wide variety of diffusers available. Diffusers range in price from $25 to $500, so customers have a many options to choose from. Most diffusers use water in a reservoir where the user drops the essential oils. Put the cover back on, turn on the machine, and the mist starts diffusing into the air. Room size will need to be considered when determining the amount of essential oils to use, especially if the aroma is important to you. However, even if you don’t smell the aroma, the therapeutic properties of the oil(s) will still be getting into the air and into your nose. Remember when using this method that other people and animals in your home need to be considered.

There are many benefits to inhaling essential oils. First, these very small molecules are absorbed into our lungs quickly. That allows them to work on respiratory issues such as colds, flu, congestion, and environmental concerns. Second, the nose, eyes, ears, and skin are considered the “first line of defense” of the body. They are openings into the body where bacteria, viruses, and fungi can get inside us. Inhaling essential oils can help to prevent infections coming into the body through the nose. Third, when inhaled, essential oil molecules can cross into the blood stream from the lungs. This is how essential oils can be delivered to the whole body — through the blood. Last, because the oils can get into our body through the lungs, they work on the central nervous system. The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord where sensory impulses are transmitted and where motor impulses go out to coordinates the activity of the entire nervous system.

There are some general guidelines you should follow when considering which essential oils to inhale. First, check each essential oil to make sure it is suitable to inhale. You should also check the safety information about inhaling certain oils, especially when considering their use by children or the elderly. Some essential oils like eucalyptus, peppermint, rosemary and clove have specific safety issues. Wherever you purchase your essential oils they should come with this safety information.

The amount of essential oil diffused should also be considered. Remember, less is more when it comes to essential oils. They are very powerful because they are so concentrated. Anyone in the room will be affected by the essential oil and its therapeutic properties. Remember carefully to consider the safety of children, the elderly, those with compromised systems due to disease, and women who may be pregnant. You also need to consider your four legged friends. Know that pets will also be affected and never leave a diffuser on when you leave the house if your pets cannot leave the room where the diffuser is located.

If for no other reason than knowing that 96% of essential oils enter your body when inhaled, I am confident that this method is the best to way for you to enjoy their benefits to the fullest. Come by The Nature Cottage to learn more.


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