The most common cause of sinus and lung congestion is a cold or flu virus. Additionally, secondary bacterial infections that follow on the heels of colds and flus can be especially nasty, irritating the delicate lining in the respiratory tract. The mucus that causes the congestion is produced to protect that lining and wash away the infection.
For quick relief, thin out congestion by using the essential oils of eucalyptus, peppermint, and bergamot combined with steam. Remember how much easier it is to breathe when you step into a steamy, hot shower? The steam opens up tightened bronchial passages, allowing the essential oils to penetrate and wipe out the viral or bacterial infection that is causing the problem.
Two of the best essential oils to eliminate infection are lavender and eucalyptus. In fact, studies prove that a two-percent dilution of eucalyptus oil kills 70 percent of airborne staphylococcus bacteria. Anise, peppermint, and eucalyptus reduce coughing, perhaps by suppressing the brain's cough reflex. If congestion is severe, also use essential oils that loosen congestion, such as those listed below. Cypress dries a persistently runny nose.
To create a therapeutic steam, add a few drops of essential oil to a pan of water that is simmering on the stove. You can also use a humidifier -- some actually provide a compartment for essential oils. If you are at the office or traveling and steaming is impractical, try inhaling a tissue scented with the oils, or use a natural nasal inhaler. These are available in natural food and drugstores, or you can make your own using the recipe in the sidebar below. If you don't have a diffuser but would like to disinfect the air, simply combine water and essential oils and dispense the solution from a spray bottle.
A vapor balm (a salve containing essential oils) or massage oil also can be rubbed over the chest, back, and throat to relieve congestion. Vapor balms increase circulation and warmth in the chest as they are absorbed through the skin. Placing a flannel cloth on the chest after rubbing in the oil will increase the warming action.
Commercial products, such as Vicks VapoRub, still use derivatives of essential oils (or their synthetic oil counterparts) such as thymol from thyme and menthol from mint, in a petroleum ointment base, but more natural alternatives are available from your natural food store. Essential oil molecules are also easily inhaled from the balm.
The steam recipe given here uses eucalyptus, which is simple and effective, but you can replace it with any of the essential oils listed except clove and thyme, which can be too harsh when inhaled. However, all the oils given can be used in a vapor balm. If you are having trouble deciding which oils to use, refer to the essential oil profiles to determine their differences and which oil might have additional qualities that you would like to include. (See link to Essential Oils Profiles at bottom of this article.)
Essential oils for fighting respiratory infections: benzoin, clove, eucalyptus, lavender, marjoram, tea tree, thyme
Essential oils to ease mucus congestion: benzoin, birch, cedarwood, clove, cypress, eucalyptus, ginger, peppermint, tea tree, thyme