Poisoning by Essential Oil Exposure on the Rise in AU
Tue, April 20, 2021

Poisoning by Essential Oil Exposure on the Rise in AU

Essential oils, such as mint and lavender, are popular alternative therapies to rub into the skin or inhale / Photo by: Madeleine Steinbach via Shutterstock

 

Essential oils, such as mint and lavender, are popular alternative therapies to rub into the skin or inhale. It can help with digestion, boost energy, and relieve stress, but a new study published in the Medical Journal of Australia details that cases of poisoning by essential oil exposure increased in Australia.

The Australian researchers led by NSW Poisons Information Centre’s Director of Research Dr. Rose Cairns conducted a retrospective study of essential oil exposure in their country. The study reveals that the risk of essential oil depends on how it is used. Severe toxicity may also occur when the oil is ingested.

Life-Threatening Toxicity of Essential Oils

Cairns and the team said that as little as 5 ml can already cause life-threatening toxicity in kids. To come up with such findings, the authors analyzed the essential oil exposure calls to the NSWPIC, Australia’s largest poisoning information center. These calls were from July 2014 to June 2018. A total of 4,412 essential oil exposures were identified by the team. They added that 1,387 or 31% of the callers already had symptoms of poisoning at the time of the call. The number of poisoning calls also increased from 1,011 from 2014 to 2015 to 1,177 in 2017 to 2018. It shows a 16.4% increase. 

The team’s analysis also shows that the majority (3,530 or 80%) of the essential oil exposures were accidental or because of a therapeutic error (580 cases or 13%). There were also 84 cases, 14%, of the poisoning calls involving someone who mistook essential oils for liquid pharmaceuticals, usually thinking that what they are consuming is a cough liquid. There were 105 cases, 2.4%, of misinformed misuse of essential oils. For example, they thought it was meant for ingestion. In 2,790 cases or 63% of the calls, the exposed individual was below 15 years old.

The group warned the public of the dangers of poisoning by essential oil and reminded that these oils should not be kept in the same storage as oral medications to avoid therapeutic errors. Child-resistant closures and flow restrictors are desirable, yet containers are only required to have such a type of closure if the volume of the essential oil is more than 15mL. This kind of essential oil closure is “inadequate,” concluded the team, considering that severe toxicity can already be caused in small quantities (5 milliliters).

List of Essential Oils Often Involved in the Poisoning Calls

According to the team, the essential oils that are often involved in the calls include eucalyptus (46.4%), tea tree (17.0%), clove (4.1%), peppermint oils (3.5%), and lavender (6.1%). 

The team said that although the overall numbers may not seem like much when compared to other substances, such as actual medications, the numbers still present a context that people have to keep in mind.

“We found that essential oil exposures are frequent in Australia and that more than half involve children,” the research reads.

The word “essential” attached to the oil refers to the “essence” or the volatility of the oils removed through the steam distillation process or heating the botanicals. This only means that the fragrant plant contains aromatic compounds. 

Most Popular Essential Oils

Aromatherapy platform AromaTalking shares that the most popular essential oil is lavender as it is used for relaxation, skin issues, speeding healing, pain relief, improved digestion, and reduced inflammation. The second most popular essential oil is peppermint, which is used for alleviating headaches, reducing feelings of anxiety and stress, freshening the air, relieving digestive issues, such as heartburn or gas, removing irritating skin issues or redness, and killing germs. Other popular essential oils include lemon, eucalyptus, frankincense, tea tree, chamomile, rosemary, patchouli, sweet orange, marjoram, grapefruit, cinnamon, clove, and clary sage essential oils.

There are important things to consider when using essential oil, such as its chemical composition and purity, duration of use, method of use, and dosage. A suggestion provided by medical information platform Healthline is to conduct a patch test to see how your skin will react to the oil before a full application. It suggests applying the diluted form of oil in the forearm, putting gauze on it, and waiting for 24 hours. If the skin patch is swollen, blistering, itchy, or red, you're probably having an adverse reaction to the oil and you should discontinue its use.

Australian Natural Therapist Association’s vice-president and aromatherapist Elizabeth Greenwood, however, shared via newspaper Brisbane Times that mixing essential oils in water daily is not prescribed as water and oil do not mix.

Aromatherapy platform AromaTalking shares that the most popular essential oil is lavender as it is used for relaxation, skin issues, speeding healing, pain relief, improved digestion, and reduced inflammation / Photo by: PhotoStockPhoto via Shutterstock

 

Adverse Effects of Aromatherapy

Aside from allergies, other adverse effects of aromatherapy include phototoxicity (oil causing the skin to be sensitive to the sun’s ultraviolet rays) and its being flammable, which is to be remembered when used next to an open flame. Essential oils, when highly concentrated, can also cause symptoms of drowsiness, nausea, seizures, and choking. 

The Australian study only shows that even a natural substance can do harm. Regulating the safe practice of using an essential oil is not only helpful but can also save lives.