Along with the common cold, the flu and other respiratory conditions typically comes a cough that keeps you up at night and limits your ability to breathe with ease. Although so many people suffer from a cough every year, many aren’t aware of the natural remedies that are truly effective. There are several essential oils for cough that have antispasmodic, expectorant, antiviral and antibacterial properties. Like my recommended essential oils for colds, these oils serve as a safe and effective way to get rid of your cough and other symptoms of a respiratory condition for good.
According to research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, over-the-counter (OTC) cough suppressants are of no benefit for children and shouldn’t be used by children who are under the age of 6 years old. On top of that, the benefits for adults are likely minimal. Many people turn to codeine to relieve their coughs, but did you know that codeine is a narcotic that can cause withdrawal symptoms like other opiates when it’s overused? Plus, studies show that in adults codeine and antihistamines have no effect on cough. (1)
So many people are desperate to find a more effective remedy for their coughs. Try these essential oils for coughs that work to address the cause of your cough while simultaneously loosening mucus, relaxing your muscles and reducing cough intensity.
The 6 Best Essential Oils for Cough
These essential oils for cough are effective in two ways — they help to address the cause of your cough by killing toxins, viruses or bacteria that are causing the problem, and they work to relieve your cough by loosening your mucus, relaxing the muscles of your respiratory system and allowing more oxygen to get into your lungs. You can use one of these essential oils for cough or a combination of these oils.
Eucalyptus is an excellent essential oil for cough because it works as an expectorant, helping to cleanse your body of the microorganisms and toxins that are making you sick. It also dilates your blood vessels and allows more oxygen to get into your lungs, which can be helpful when you are constantly coughing and having trouble catching your breath. In addition to this, the major component in eucalyptus oil, cineole, has antimicrobial effects against many bacteria, viruses and fungi. (2)
The best way to use eucalyptus oil as an essential oil for cough is to diffuse 5 drops at home, especially right before bed. Eucalyptus can also be applied topically to your chest and neck to reduce cough severity, but only use a very small amount — starting with 1–2 drops. Another great way to use eucalyptus and other essential oils for cough is to prepare a homemade vapor rub that’s made with olive oil, coconut oil, beeswax, peppermint and eucalyptus. Keep in mind, eucalyptus should not be used topically on children under the age of 2 and when it’s being used on children, do a patch test first to make sure they don’t experience adverse skin reactions.
Peppermint oil is a top essential oil for coughs because it contains menthol and it has both antibacterial and antiviral properties. Menthol has a cooling effect on the body, plus it’s able to improve nasal airflow when you’re congested by unclogging your sinuses. Peppermint is also able to relieve a scratchy throat that makes you cough. It’s also known to have antitussive (anti-cough) and antispasmodic effects. (3)
Research conducted on healthy adults shows that peppermint oil relaxes the bronchial smooth muscles and increases ventilation, which is why it’s often used by athletes to enhance their exercise performance. It is these properties that allow peppermint to reduce coughing severity and improve your respiratory rate and ability to breath. (4)
The best ways to take advantage of the many peppermint oil benefits for coughs and respiratory conditions is to diffuse 5 drops at home or work, inhale it directly from the bottle or apply 2–3 drops topically to your chest, back of neck and temples. When using peppermint topically, you can apply it alone, or combine it with coconut oil and eucalyptus oil to create a vapor rub. Remember that a little bit goes a long way, so start with just a few drops when using peppermint on your skin. Plus, don’t get it too close to your eyes or it can cause irritation. Do not use peppermint oil on the skin of children under the age of 2.
Rosemary oil has a relaxing effect on your tracheal smooth muscle, which helps to relieve your cough. Like eucalyptus oil, rosemary contains cineole, which has shown to reduce the frequency of coughing fits in patients with asthma and rhinosinusitis. Rosemary also exhibits antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, so it works as a natural immune booster. (5)
A 2011 study published in Evidence Based Complimentary and Alternative Medicine found that a spray containing eucalyptus, peppermint, oregano and rosemary essential oils was able to improve symptoms of upper respiratory ailments among the 26 participants in the treatment group. By inhaling these oils five times a day for three days, researchers indicate that the participants reported greater improvement in symptoms including cough, sore throat and hoarseness. It only took 20 minutes after inhaling the essential oil spray that the participants noticed an improvement. (6)
To use this essential oil for your cough, diffuse about 5 drops or combine 2 drops with half a teaspoon of coconut oil and rub it into your chest. Rosemary shouldn’t be used on children under the age of 4 and it’s not safe for women who are pregnant.
Lemon essential oil is known for its ability to boost your immune system and support lymphatic drainage, which can help you to overcome a cough and cold quickly. It has antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which makes it a great tool for supporting your immunity as you battle with a respiratory condition. Lemon essential oil also benefits your lymphatic system, which protects your body from outside threats, by improving blood flow and reducing swelling in your lymph nodes. (7, 8)
There are a few ways to use lemon essential oil to relieve your cough. You can diffuse 5 drops at home or work, and even add it to eucalyptus oil in your diffuser. You can also combine about 2 drops of lemon oil with a half teaspoon of coconut oil and rub the mixture into your neck to help drain your lymphatic system.
To use lemon essential oil internally, add 1–2 drops of a high quality, pure grade oil to warm water with honey or a glass of water. In an attempt to relieve your cough, you have to think about what’s causing it in the first place. Using lemon essential oil to kill toxins or bacteria in your home can be very helpful, so make your own natural cleaning product by adding about 20 drops of lemon essential oil to a spray bottle filled with water and a little bit of white vinegar. Use this combination to clean the surfaces in your home, especially your kitchen and bathroom.
Two active ingredients in oregano oil are thymol and carvacrol, both of which have powerful antibacterial and antifungal properties. Research suggests that because of its antibacterial activities, oregano oil can be used as a natural alternative to antibiotics that are often used to treat respiratory conditions. Oregano oil also exhibits antiviral activity, and because many respiratory conditions are actually caused by a virus and not bacteria, this can be especially beneficial for relieving conditions that lead to a cough. (9)
To use oregano oil for your cough, diffuse 3–5 drops at home or work. You can also combine 2–3 drops of oregano with equal parts carrier oil (like coconut oil) and apply it to your chest, back or neck or bottom of your feet. To treat bacterial conditions that are leading to a cough, add 1–2 drops to a glass of water twice daily. Because taking oregano oil internally may interact with certain medications, I advise that you speak to your health care provider before using it. I also recommend using oregano oil internally only for a maximum of two weeks.
There’s not enough research to suggest that using oregano oil is safe during pregnancy, so I advise using caution and speaking to your health care provider first. I don’t recommend giving oregano oil internally to children under the age of 5. To use oregano oil on children, simply dilute 1 drop with a teaspoon of coconut or olive oil and rub it into the soles of their feet.
6. Tea Tree
The earliest reported use of the tea tree, or malaleuca plant, was when the Bundjalung people of northern Australia crushed the leaves and inhaled them to treat coughs, colds and wounds. One of the most well-researched tea tree oil benefits is it’s powerful antimicrobial properties, giving it the ability to kill off bad bacteria that lead to respiratory conditions. Tea tree has also displayed antiviral activity, making it a useful tool for addressing the cause of your cough and working as a natural disinfectant. And, on top of that, tea tree oil has an invigorating scent that helps to clear congestion and ease your cough and other respiratory symptoms. (10)
To use tea tree for your cough, diffuse 5 drops at home or work, inhale it directly from the bottle, or dilute 1–2 drops with a half teaspoon of coconut oil and rub it into your chest and back of your neck. Tea tree oil is not for internal use and it shouldn’t be used during pregnancy.
It’s important that your essential oils for cough are 100 percent therapeutic grade oils, especially if you are using them internally. You should also become familiar with essential oil safety, especially if you are pregnant, caring for a child or planning to use the oils internally.
Of these six essential oils for cough, eucalyptus, rosemary and tea tree should not be used during pregnancy. If you are pregnant and planning to use oregano oil, use caution and speak to your health care provider beforehand. When using essential oils for cough to soothe your child, it’s best to diffuse eucalyptus, peppermint, lemon, oregano and tea tree from a distance. If you use these oils on your child’s skin, always use a carrier oil and only very small amounts of the essential oil. Plus, do a patch test first.
Essential Oils for Cough: Key Points
- Dealing with a cough can keep you up at night, make it difficult to get through your workday and reduce your ability to breathe easily. Many people turn to over-the-counter cough suppressants, but research shows that they are of no benefit for children and the benefits for adults are likely minimal.
- Instead, using essential oils for cough is a safe, low-cost and effective way to relieve your symptoms and address the cause of the cough. The top six essential oils for coughs include:
- Tea Tree
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