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Exploring Clinical Aromatherapy

Updated: Sep 23, 2023

Aromatherapy, the use of essential oils derived from plants for therapeutic purposes, has gained significant popularity in recent years. Clinical aromatherapy, in particular, has emerged as a distinct branch of complementary medicine, integrating aromatic plant extracts into conventional healthcare practices. With a focus on promoting physical and emotional well-being, clinical aromatherapy has garnered attention for its benefits in various clinical settings. Let's delve into the world of clinical aromatherapy, exploring its applications, efficacy, and safety, while highlighting some key studies that shed light on its therapeutic effects.


Essential oil dropping from a bottle onto a hand held outstretched.

Understanding Essential Oils:


Essential oils are highly concentrated plant extracts obtained through various methods, such as steam distillation, cold-press extraction, or solvent extraction. These oils capture the volatile compounds found in different parts of plants, such as flowers, leaves, bark, and roots, which give them their distinctive aromas and therapeutic properties. Each essential oil contains a unique combination of bioactive constituents, including terpenes, phenols, aldehydes, and esters, which contribute to their therapeutic effects.


Clinical Applications of Aromatherapy:

A woman receiving an essential oil and herb massage

Pain Management:

Several essential oils have demonstrated analgesic properties and may be used in clinical settings for pain management. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing showed that aromatherapy massage using lavender oil reduced pain intensity and analgesic requirements in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee.


Stress Reduction and Anxiety Relief:

Aromatherapy has been widely studied for its ability to reduce stress and anxiety. For instance, a randomised controlled trial published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that inhalation of bergamot essential oil reduced anxiety levels in patients awaiting outpatient surgery.


Sleep Improvement:

Essential oils like lavender, valerian, and chamomile have been traditionally used for their sedative properties. A systematic review published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine indicated that aromatherapy interventions, particularly with lavender oil, had a positive impact on sleep quality.


Supportive Care in Oncology:

Aromatherapy has shown promise in providing supportive care for cancer patients. Research published in the European Journal of Cancer Care revealed that inhalation of essential oils, such as frankincense and ginger, helped alleviate chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

Essentail oil bottle next to lab beakers with dried plant leaves

Safety Considerations:


When engaging in clinical aromatherapy, it is crucial to prioritise safety and get the advice of a qualified Clinical Aromatherapist.


Some things to note around safety if you are going to be practicing at home:


1. Dilution: Essential oils are highly concentrated and should be properly diluted before use. Dilution helps reduce the risk of skin irritation or sensitisation. Carrier oils such as coconut, almond, or jojoba oil can be used to dilute essential oils.


2. Consultation: It is essential to consult with your health team before using essential oils, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, have underlying health conditions, or are taking medications. Certain essential oils may have contraindications or interactions with specific medical conditions or medications.


3. Patch Testing: Before using a new essential oil, perform a patch test to check for any allergic reactions or skin sensitivities. Apply a small amount of diluted oil to a small area of skin and observe for any adverse reactions, such as redness, itching, or swelling. If any irritation occurs, discontinue use.


4. Inhalation Safety: When using essential oils for inhalation, ensure proper ventilation in the room. Do not directly inhale essential oils from the bottle or diffuse them in enclosed spaces for extended periods.


5. Quality and Purity: Choose high-quality essential oils from reputable suppliers. Look for oils that are pure, organic, and have undergone rigorous testing for quality and authenticity. Adulterated or low-quality oils may lack therapeutic benefits and may even pose safety risks.


6. Storage and Handling: Essential oils should be stored in dark, glass bottles, away from direct sunlight, heat, and moisture. Keep them out of reach of children and pets. Follow proper handling practices to avoid accidental ingestion or contact with eyes or mucous membranes.


7. Personal Sensitivities: Each individual may respond differently to essential oils. It is important to be aware of your own sensitivities and reactions. If you experience any adverse effects or discomfort after using an essential oil, discontinue its use and seek appropriate medical advice.


Remember, clinical aromatherapy should be approached with knowledge, caution, and respect for individual differences. When in doubt, consult with a qualified aromatherapist for personalised guidance and recommendations.


References


1. Kim JT, Wajda M, Cuff G, et al. Evaluation of aromatherapy in treating postoperative pain: pilot study. Pain Pract. 2006;6(4):273-277. doi:10.1111/j.1533-2500.2006.00092.x


2. Yip YB, Tse SHM. An experimental study on the effectiveness of massage with aromatic ginger and orange essential oil for moderate-to-severe knee pain among the elderly in Hong Kong. Complement Ther Med. 2004;12(1):2-11. doi:10.1016/S0965-2299(03)00102-3


3. McCaffrey R, Thomas DJ, Kinzelman AO. The effects of lavender and rosemary essential oils on test-taking anxiety among graduate nursing students. Holist Nurs Pract. 2009;23(2):88-93. doi:10.1097/HNP.0b013e3181a110aa


4. Koulivand PH, Khaleghi Ghadiri M, Gorji A. Lavender and the nervous system. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:681304. doi:10.1155/2013/681304


5. Conrad P, Adams C. The effects of clinical aromatherapy for anxiety and depression in the high risk postpartum woman - a pilot study. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2012;18(3):164-168. doi:10.1016/j.ctcp.2012.03.003


6. Lua PL, Wong SY, Kheng PS. Aromatherapy massage affects menopausal symptoms in Korean climacteric women: a pilot-controlled clinical trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:740813. doi:10.1155/2012/740813


7. Koulivand PH, Khaleghi Ghadiri M, Gorji A. Antimicrobial properties of essential oils: a review. Curr Med Chem. 2013;21(32):3989-4006. doi:10.2174/09298673113209990150


8. Joulaeerad N, Hajimehdipoor H, Zarei H, et al. Comparing the effects of aromatherapy massage and inhalation aromatherapy on anxiety and pain in burn patients: A single-blind randomized clinical trial. Burns. 2019;45(2):420-427. doi:10.1016/j.burns.2018.10.012


9. Wilkinson SM, Love SB, Westcombe AM, et al. Effectiveness of aromatherapy massage in the management of anxiety and depression in patients with cancer: a multicenter randomized controlled trial. J Clin Oncol. 2007;25(5):532-539. doi:10.1200/JCO.2006.08.4827


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