Infectious diseases threaten human lives throughout the year across different parts of the globe. Some of them are easier to isolate and treat than others, but when it comes to airborne diseases, protecting yourself and your family isn’t always as easy.
The USA is not new to seasonal and pandemic occurrences of airborne diseases, and many people are already geared up with awareness of both medical, alternative, and complementary treatments and preventive measures that they can take.
In this article, we will tackle one of the most ancient yet still popular ways that people address airborne diseases: the use of essential oils.
Important Note: The antimicrobial and healing properties of certain essential oils have been documented in several historic accounts as well as modern research. However, as there are no thorough studies yet that prove the unfailing effectiveness of essential oils against diseases, it is best to take the safe route and use them for complementary treatment instead of primary medication.
Keep reading to learn more about how plant-based oils can be used to cleanse the air and formulate antimicrobial recipes.
Airborne Diseases: Overview
Airborne diseases refer to various conditions caused and spread by airborne pathogens. These pathogens may be in the form of bacteria, viruses, or fungi that can stay suspended in the air, cling to dust particles, or settle on surfaces.
Some pathogens can stay active and infectious for several hours or days apart from a host. Others, on the other hand, are easily killed or deactivated when they come into contact with a disinfecting agent.
Different pathogens have different characteristics, and they also have varying levels of resistance against environmental factors like temperature and humidity. As such, any effort to prevent or address an infectious disease requires an understanding of the traits of its causative pathogen.
Airborne diseases may be classified into three groups according to their causative agent: bacterial, viral, or fungal. Out of these three, bacterial and viral diseases are often associated with high incidence rates as well as mortality rates.
Bacterial Airborne Diseases
Two of the most common diseases under this group are tuberculosis (TB) and bacterial pneumonia. According to the 2019 Global Tuberculosis Report of the World Health Organization (WHO), TB incidences in recent years have stayed relatively stable despite the development of vaccines. As per the most recent WHO report, there were about 10 million cases of TB in 2018-- most of them recorded in South-East Asia and Africa.
Viral Airborne Diseases
These types of diseases may pose mild to severe threats. Some of them, like the common cold and flu, are common occurrences during certain seasons. In the USA, for example, the flu season is expected during fall and winter. According to yearly data on flu occurrences, the period between December and February is when flu cases are most rampant--sometimes even until late May.
Aside from influenza, other common viral airborne diseases are the common cold, measles, and chickenpox.
Fungal Airborne Diseases
Among airborne diseases, fungal ones are often the least threatening. Fungal infections are commonly non-communicable, with the exception of those that spread through direct skin-to-skin contact.
Fungal contamination in the air is commonly observed in enclosed spaces with objects that promote the proliferation of fungi, such as spoiled food items, wallpaper, plywood, and the like. Most fungal airborne diseases are associated with Sick Building Syndrome--a condition caused mainly by poor ventilation.
One of the most common ways in which airborne pathogens are transmitted is through respiratory droplets spread by infected persons when they sneeze, cough, or even when they just talk, laugh, or breathe.
Disease-causing droplets, like flu droplets, can travel several feet away from their source--some reaching up to 6 feet, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Moreover, smaller particles tend to stay suspended in the air longer, making them more likely to be inhaled or picked up by a person who will then be at risk of experiencing an infection.
What’s more, recent years have revealed how pathogens can emerge, develop resistance, and even re-emerge. The current COVID-19 pandemic has also shown how new pathogens, particularly viruses, can be transmitted not only from person to person but also from an animal to a human being.
Distilled water is basically water that’s been purified and is free of contaminants, minerals, and potentially harmful microorganisms. You can buy bottles or gallons of distilled water, but you can also make your own at home.
Maintaining proper personal hygiene, strengthening your immune system, and getting regular immunizations are still the most effective ways to protect yourself from infectious diseases. If a vaccine is not available or hasn’t been developed yet--like in the case of COVID-19--then all the more that you should observe your hygiene and regularly disinfect the things you use.
If a vaccine is not available or hasn’t been developed yet--like in the case of COVID-19--then all the more that you should observe your hygiene and regularly disinfect the things you use.
But what if someone showing signs of infection visited your home or workplace? Given the nature of airborne pathogens, getting rid of them, especially from an enclosed space, can be tricky and challenging.
With that, let’s look more closely into the role of ventilation and air quality management in fighting pathogens. We’ll also head straight to answering the big question you have in mind: How can I use essential oils to fight airborne diseases?
How to Improve Indoor Air Quality
Indoor air quality is an important factor in people’s wellbeing. It’s affected by several things, including the amount of ventilation, presence of allergens, and microbial growth on undusted surfaces, damp areas, and the like.
If a room is left with no proper ventilation for too long, then the pollutants and pathogens inside will remain trapped and will likely build up to unsafe and health-threatening levels. As stated by the World Health Organization, “Poorly ventilated buildings affect air quality and can contribute to the spread of disease.”
Depending on the use of a room and the conditions of its outdoor environment, proper ventilation may be achieved through natural means, such as through doors and windows, or with the use of mechanical ventilation or infiltration.
Additionally, purifying the air with the use of natural agents like essential oils is another way to help get rid of dangerous microorganisms.
Essential Oils for Air Purification
Essential oils contain compounds that, at certain levels and conditions, exhibit pharmaceutical benefits against certain types of microorganisms. In a 2016 study published in the Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine journal, the proponents reviewed the antimicrobial potential of specific essential oils and arrived at data-backed conclusions about the potency of oils against certain kinds of bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
On the other hand, how to effectively diffuse essential oil molecules into the air is another question. Today, the most common diffusion methods are with the aid of oil burners, ultrasonic diffusers, and through steam inhalation or nebulization.
Important Note: Oil burners tend to disintegrate the quality of oils. Direct inhalation is also not recommended since essential oils have volatile compounds that could pose health risks when inhaled in large amounts. As many alternative medicine experts and aromatherapy enthusiasts would say, using a diffuser is probably today’s safest, most effective, and most efficient way to spread essential oil molecules throughout an enclosed room.
Enumerating all antimicrobial plant-based oils is a nearly impossible task, but below are some of the most widely used oils that you can also try for air purification:
Essential Oil Blends for Diffuser
Blending essential oils is both a science and an art. There are many blends you can make, but as you blend, make sure to keep in mind the properties of these oils that you want to maximize.
For instance, if you are diffusing oils to help disinfect the air, then be sure to use oils with disinfecting capabilities--like those on our list above.
Below are three air-purifying essential oil blends that you can try today. You can play around the ratio of the oils. However, if you are new to diffusing oils in a diffuser, then it’s best to stick with a 1:1 ratio then experiment later on as you become more acquainted with the scents and the effects they bring you.
Crisp & Purifying
- Ingredients: peppermint essential oil, lavender essential oil, rosemary essential oil
Cleansing & Uplifting
- Ingredients: bergamot essential oil, eucalyptus essential oil
Citrus & Relaxing
- Ingredients: lemon essential oil, grapefruit essential oil, tea tree essential oil
There are many blends you can make, but as you blend, make sure to keep in mind the properties of these oils that you want to maximize.
Essential oils can be very beneficial when used properly. However, although they are all-natural, essential oils do have associated risks that you have to be cautious of. To avoid unnecessary risks, here are a few precautions and reminders to keep in mind:
Don’t depend on essential oils. They aren’t magic potions that will miraculously purify your space from all pathogens and allergens. In fact, essential oils will bring you more problems than benefits if you diffuse them in a dusty and poorly ventilated room.
With that, make an effort to keep your space clean, and use oil diffusion only as an additional defense against pathogens.
Don’t keep your diffuser on. A common mistake that people make is keeping their diffuser on the entire time that they are inside a room. However, remember that essential oils also contain volatile compounds that may result in skin irritation or headaches.
To stay on the safe side, it’s better to diffuse for short periods of time, like between 15 to 30 minutes, then repeat twice or thrice throughout the day. If possible, open your windows every once in a while to let out stale air and let in fresh air.
Be wary of people’s allergies. If you are sharing a room with somebody, be sure to speak to that person before diffusing oils. Not only will this help prevent allergic reactions, but it will also help you avoid using scents that the other person might find unpleasant.
To make every diffusion session safe and fun, you may review this guide on the dos and don’ts of essential oil use.
Several historic records and scientific studies prove the antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties of certain essential oils. There are also various ways to harness these properties for your benefit, one of which is through the use of a diffuser to spread oil molecules and fight off airborne pathogens.
To protect yourself, your colleagues, and your loved ones from diseases, essential oils and essential oil blends can provide you with an additional line of defense. Just be sure to do your part of cleaning your room, setting up a ventilation system, and then diffusing oils in a safe, fun, and health-boosting way.