Fort Worth, Texas,
30
September
2015
|
05:51 PM
America/Chicago

How safe are essential oils for children?

The Doc Smitty answers your questions

I decided to tackle the subject of essential oils. I know many people out there are firm believers in how effective they are. So before I approached this topic, I did some pretty significant research into what is out there on the use of oils in children.

Recently, a report from the Tennesee poison center caught my eye with a report that said reports of toxic exposures to oils doubled from 2011 to 2015. Of those reported cases, four out of every five were in children.

As I began my research on essential oils, I asked what you guys wanted to know. I asked on Facebook what you all wanted to know and you guys had some great questions.

Most indicated that they “really wanted to hear my opinion.”

I will take the questions and try to divide them up by category as best as I can.

I feel like I owe it to you, and your children, to give my candid answers on the subject.

Safety

Q: What harm have you seen from patients choosing oils over modern medicine?

A: I’ve seen two examples of this. The first were parents using oils for their child’s eczema. They came to me after one month of attempts (including multiple different regimens) to treat with oils and the child ended up having a secondary staph infection of their eczema because the skin was open. In fairness, severe eczema happens and secondary skin infections happen, but most of my patients with eczema do not get that severe with the medications I typically recommend. The second patient was one who had an upper respiratory infection that led to croup (noisy, barky cough). The parents were trying oils at home for three days (again multiple different attempts to get the “right” oil) before they ended up in the emergency room and admitted for two days for difficulty breathing. The theme here has three components:

1.The oil itself did not hurt the child.

2.The ambiguity as to which oil should be used led to multiple different regimens and oils being tried.

3.The biggest problem with these two is the delay in receiving appropriate care.

Q: What is the best way to explain proper dilution to others?

A: Ummmm…I don’t know. Based on what I have seen regarding research this has not truly been studied, at least in children.

Q: Are there any that are harmful for use topically?

A: There are case reports of severe toxicity with topica application that uses eucalyptus and tea tree oil from those that I studied. These are mainly due to extensive application. Toxicity to any treatment is always related to dose. The more area you cover, the more likely it is to be toxic. There are also some reports of reactions with very small applications. The other concern I have (for which we don’t know the answer yet) is how does the toxicity change when these oils are being applied hourly (as I’ve seen recommended) or when multiple oils are being used at once.

Q: Can I use them in my child with asthma?

There are no studies that show effectiveness for asthma. Any inhaled substance with a small particle size that can get into the lungs could theoretically lead the airways to constrict which would actually cause more problem in children with asthma.

Q: What happens when oil are ingested (purposefully or accidental)?

Even most pro-oil websites don’t recommend ingestion of oils in children and to use extreme caution in adults. Because we do not have studies that evaluate the safety and appropriate dosing for ingestion by children, this is the one hard line I take with my patients who are using them. Please do not use them in this way.

Q: Have you seen allergic reactions?

The allergic reactions I have seen are mostly related to the skin. Application of anything topically can flare a child who has eczema or cause contact irritation of the skin.

Q: Are they really good for you or are you you doing more harm than good?

I don’t think we know the answer to this question on a global scale. If they do have all the anti-bacterial, anti-viral and all other properties, and will actually work for those uses (which are not proven in humans), would we go on to see essential oil-resistant-bacteria? I believe we would. Especially with the way they are currently being used. Basically applying whatever oil for whatever infection (I am basing this on the fact that anytime I see someone requesting help with which oil to use, they routinely get 5-10 suggestions). That is exactly the way resistance to antibiotics occurs - too many antibiotics for non-specific indications and next thing you know a certain antibiotics doesn’t work for certain infection any longer.

Q: Is it safe to use oils along with modern medicines?

We know that these oils can affect the liver and cause the liver to metabolize other medications faster or slower. This could lead to medications not being as effective or potentially be more toxic. Some information is being gathered in adults to try to figure this out but kids are not “little adults” and we’ll likely need research in children before we can answer this for sure.

More from Doc Smitty on this topic:

Essential oils and their use on children

Essential oils and children - more questions answered

 

About the author

Justin Smith, M.D., is a Cook Children's pediatrician in Lewisville . View more from The Doc Smitty at his Facebook page.He attended University of Texas, Southwestern Medical School and did his pediatric training at Baylor College of Medicine. He joins Cook Children's after practicing in his hometown of Abilene for four years. He has a particular interest in development, behavior and care for children struggling with obesity. In his spare time, he enjoys playing with his 3 young children, exercising, reading and writing about parenting and pediatric health issues.

Comments 1 - 14 (14)
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Penny
11
April
2015
As a certified aromatherapist I know a few things.... 1. Essential Oils can be an incredible tool for wellness but they aren't miracle workers... 2. Oils don't have to be Doterra or Young Living, there are many companies with equally good or better oils. Do proper research and ask for quality reports... 3. Ask a properly trained person about blends and symptoms, don't buy from a salesperson that isn't trained in oils. 4. Don't put you or your family in worse shape because you ignore western medicine. There are times and cases that need the help and wisdom of a traditional Dr. 5. If you take the Biblical healing back although they did use essences of plants and a version of modern oils they are not what we use today. Distillation processes weren't available in Bible times... Use oils and use them responsibly! My motto: Less is More!
Steve Black
01
April
2015
A rather anecdotal and uneducated article considering the source. Lots of "ifs" and examples with potentially no relation to oils whatsoever. Not what I would expect from a physician.Dr. if you really want to answer these questions with the authority they deserve why didn't you contact your colleagues who are studying the oils in their practices and laboratories and use their findings?
Abigail's Mommy
01
April
2015
kg, The problem with the medications we have now is they do not always work. My daughter was getting infections all the time. Doctors could not figure out what was causing them or how to prevent them. They were just treating them when they got very bad. The treatments did not always work. My daughter is allergic to most of the antibiotics they have and can not take them. Sense using the oils in a diffuser, she has not gotten an infection for 8 months! Also, I know lots of doctors that use a high quality essential oils on their own children.
Justin Smith, MD
31
March
2015
You are spot on with your comment. There are so many people who have decided what side they are on before they even examine the evidence on either side (this is true for oils but for many other things as well.) Even if the argument is that studies are only done on things that can generate profit (which isn't true), oils don't get a free pass. There is plenty of money to be made there today and will only continue to increase over time. Thanks so much for reading and for taking the time to leave such a helpful/constructive comment.
Justin Smith, MD
31
March
2015
Melissa,I am hopeful that we can come to a point where we know those situation where oils can be beneficial, where they would be safe but not necessarily helpful and where they could do harm. I appreciate that at least you were willing to share with your doctor what your plans were before you started using them. Thanks for your comment!
Kristina Ashton
31
March
2015
Thank you for your article here. I'm an oil user, but not to the degree that I have seen in a few of my friends. I'm very wary of using them on my daughter (2 years old). I have used lavender in a few situations, mostly diluted on a small scrape that has mostly healed or diffused in her bedroom after a rough day to help her calm for bedtime. Since there has been clinical studies on the use of lavender scented soaps and lotions and lavender oil for the calming of children, I have felt safe using this oil in diluted and diffused situations. Still, I only use it rarely. I have seen the research of eucalyptus and tea tree as well as research on peppermint and wintergreen that all recommend not to use on children, especially under the age of 6. As a result, I do not even use these on myself until after she is in bed for the night and I will not have contact with her for several hours. I have used some oils that have had wonderful effects on me. I have others that have not been exactly miraculous, but they smell great and I use them as air freshener. I wish there could be more research into oils and a more scientific approach taken to them. So many people who use the oils fall into a category of those who distrust the scientific community because "they only study medicines that they can charge money for." A person in my upline has said that she does not take her children to the doctor anymore - just the chiropractor - and does not vaccinate because she feels that she can use her oils for whatever ails her family. She only wants to use "natural" things on her family. I know that the issue of clinical trials conducted by a neutral party would be excessively expensive and would have to be repeated for years to get a good bank of information... I know that's a lot to ask for. But, it would bolster the credibility of oils and of the scientific community. It would also help separate the science from the pseudo science.
Melissa
31
March
2015
I agree with the key components of this article, however I do believe that in conjunction with some medications (depending on what you have) EO's can be very beneficial in children. Last year my, at the time 7 month old daughter, was diagnosed with Pneumococcal Bacterial Meningitis. She was treated for over 2 weeks at Cook's and was given super doses of antibiotics but could not seem to get better. Her health kept going up and down and we were completely at a loss on what to do. As scared parents we were willing to try anything to save our baby. A family friend who has studied EO's for many many years brought us a very diluted EO recipe to rub on the bottom of my baby girl's feet at night. We immediately, with the knowledge of her doctor, started doing this once a day at night time. Within 3 days her health started getting better (the doses of antibiotics stayed the same) and within a week she was released from the hospital. I believe 100% the EO's helped my sweet girl. That was the only time I have ever used them topically on her, but at now 21 months her health is amazing and we diffuse oils in our home regularly. I believe based on my experience that modern day medicine and EO's can be a harmonious combination if used correctly.
Justin Smith, MD
23
March
2015
MB,There are studies on PubMed, I looked into the research deeply. The problem is that most published research was done in test tubes, a little more in adults and then very little in children. I will continue to follow but for now, it's not something I can recommend routinely in my practice.
MB
21
March
2015
I got rid of my son's edema in an essential oil ointment/cream. The medicines I was giving my kids did not help the crudd they kept getting including pneumonia. Once I started oils, yes diluted, yes with some guess work, the green snot cleared up. There is a lot of true scientific research in published journals that supports the use of oils. Many can be found on PubMed. Drug companies aren't going to support the use of oils because they can't pattent them for profit. Btw, oils are either old school, or cutting edge, depending on your view. But, I'm going to keep on using them with my children. They have done more good for them then any of the thousands of dollars in medicines. If I feel they need it, I know the doctor is an option.
Justin Smith
20
March
2015
I was looking at the particular oils. The lack of research done is a problem with the industry and not one particular company. We just don’t have much research on any of their use in kids.
Angelique Moore
20
March
2015
Dear Dr. Smith, I just wanted to say that I thought you did a GREAT job on this article! I do use oils myself and some on our son, for him never ingested orally because like you wrote I don't know how much or what would be appropriate for someone his age and weight etc. You did a great job presenting horrific events of patients that obviously needed more training before sent off to use the oils. They are potent so that does also make me nervous to think of a population at large not having done their own research or digging around to get the information necessary. I do TONS of research!!! Sadly people are looking for a quick fix and negate to do the necessary research. The leaders in my line that I signed on with are in the metroplex but are VERY available and give us WONDERFUL trainings and never diagnose, but I know not all of them do follow that protocol and that is scary and I am not even a doctor. Thank you for being so real and stating facts! We love our doctor and thankfully we have not had to see him very often. You are doing a great job ! Thank you for a great article!
Bonnie
20
March
2015
Jessi, the "Seed to Seal Guarantee" is a guarantee made up by the company to further sell their product. It isn't a guarantee that is backed/supported by an outside company, which tells me that it only helps this company make more money. There are no other companies that use this same guarantee, and it most certainly is NOT backed by any sort of process resembling the scientific process. Dr. Smith, with so many individuals using oils as "treatments," why are there not more scientific controlled studies taking place to back/refute the claims that the oil companies promote? I love the way lavender smells, and briefly used it on my children before I did more research. There are some endocrinologists that believe it to be chemically too close to estrogen/estrogen like compounds, and do NOT recommend using it on children at all. I immediately stopped considering that structure of a chemical decides it's function, not it's name. Do not want to risk my children entering puberty/having symptoms from estrogen like compounds simply because I've been using an oil for it's calming effects. I really wish there were more controlled studies being done, especially the effect that different oils have on children.
kg
19
March
2015
I don't get it......what is the problem with the medications that are out there now? Why do we need oils? I'm not going to chance my wellness on an unproven product when the drug store is full of proven medicaitons. Some oils do smell good and that is all the use I have for them.
Jessi
19
March
2015
May I ask which oils you studied? for example DoTerra is much different from Young Living Oils which has a seed to seal guarantee as well as specifically states it is not a replacement for medical attention however it can help to speen the healing process and has been used to do such since bible times?