lavender flowers and bottles of aromatherapy oil

Aromatherapy: Supporting Patients in a Holistic Way

Aromatherapy is becoming more common as a way to support patients during their hospital admission. Aromatherapy is the term for using essential oils in a holistic way, meaning they are used to support health – mind, body, and spirit.

Essential oils are very aromatic and are active ingredients naturally found in some plants. They can be made from roots, leaves, flowers, barks, resins, or grasses through a process called distillation or they may be cold pressed. They have various aromas which may smell citrusy, woody, minty, floral, or spicy.

Breathing in the aroma, along with the active ingredients, from essential oils or applying them in a lotion may ease nausea, decrease pain, aid in relaxation or brighten a patient’s mood.

Essential oils are natural, so that means they’re safe, right?

Essential oils are highly concentrated and it takes a lot of plant material to make a little bit of essential oil. It takes 50 to 60 roses to make one drop of Rose essential oil. Each oil has various uses and chemical makeup. Some have active ingredients that can interfere with medications or that we use with caution when someone has asthma, seizures or other medical conditions. Trained staff highly dilute the essential oils for safe use, and adhere to an aromatherapy policy. Diffusers and aromatherapy products should remain out of a child’s reach or used with supervision.

Why use Aromatherapy in the hospital setting?

In the hospital setting aromatherapy can be used to assist our patients with side effects of their diagnosis or treatment, whether it’s nausea, pain or stress. The aromatherapist or trained staff will use the essential oil or blend they find appropriate for that patient and will consider the patient or parent preference.

Which essential oils are commonly used?

Lavender, sweet orange, peppermint, black pepper, Roman chamomile, lime, lemon, Integration Blend (premade blend of balsam copaiba, balsam poplar, jasmine, white sage, and rhododendron essential oils) are all commonly used oils.

How do you use aromatherapy at the hospital?

Aromasticks: An aromastick is like a small lipstick tube with a cotton wick inside. Essential oils are dropped onto the wick and the patient is able to control when they want to smell it and for how long.

Diffusers: A dry diffuser uses a fan to disperse the essential oil slowly into the room. They are best used for a short duration, to allow a break from the scent.

Lotion: Massage therapists use aromatic lotion during massage sessions. A low dilution is mixed into the lotion and is tailored to each child.

I use essential oils at home and want to use them while my child is admitted to the hospital. What are some guidelines?

There is no need to bring your own essential oils and the hospital should supply you with a small dry diffuser if you wish to use one during admission. Water diffusers are best left at home because they can grow mold and may put out too much mist for small impatient rooms. The massage therapist, certified aromatherapists or other trained staff can work with you on what is appropriate for your child’s age and diagnosis.

Though aromatherapy seems like a new concept or a buzzword, the use of natural aromatics to boost health and positive emotions has been around for centuries. Take a moment to be aware of all the wonderful scents that fill your day and how they makes you feel. Whether it’s the aroma of an amazing cup of coffee, your favorite essential oil, or the popular fall favorite; pumpkin spice!

It is important to consider the following guidelines, especially once you are home. Just because essential oils seem like a natural therapy does not mean they are safe for a child to handle. They can be dangerous to a child’s lungs if they swallow or drink the oils and can damage eyes and skin. If you use aromatherapy or essential oils at home, treat them like other medicines by storing them up, away and out of sight, preferably in a locked cabinet. Kids are curious and many essential oils smell nice or have attractive colors or labels so it is important to keep them safely out of reach.

If you’re taking an aromastick or diffuser home, a responsible adult should be in charge of when and how they are used. While these products are in use, keep them out of your child’s reach, and never leave them unattended even for just a few moments. If you think your child has gotten into essential oils, or other aromatherapy products, call the national Poison Help Line: 1-800-222-1222. Save the number in your cell phone and post it near your home phones so it will always be easily available if you need it.

For further information on aromatherapy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, click here.

Deborah Zerkle, LMT
Deborah has been practicing Massage Therapy since 2005. She has training in Swedish Massage, Trigger Point Massage, Oncology Massage, and is working on building her knowledge of Ortho-bionomy. She is certified in Infant Massage, Pediatric Massage, and Aromatherapy. She received her Aromatherapy Certification and Teacher Training from Aromahead Institute and has continued studies through Aromahead Institute and School for Aromatic Studies. She is also a member of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) and the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapists (NAHA).

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