Tea Tree Oil for Colds & Flu: Get Natural Relief

tea tree oil for cold and flu

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You feel it start at the back of your throat - that scratchiness that tells you coughing, sneezing, congestion, and a runny nose are likely in your future.  Colds are never convenient; they're bothersome to the point that you are uncomfortable, but usually not to the point that you have to stay home.  While there are over-the-counter medications that can abate the symptoms of colds, these often have unwanted side effects such as drowsiness and brain fog.  One possible alternative to using these medications to fight colds is tea tree oil

Understanding Colds

Before we delve into how tea tree oil can help your cold, let's understand what's happening with colds to begin with. 

Colds come from a virus, with the most common ones being rhinoviruses.  In fact, there are over 200 viruses that we can catch colds from! These viruses enter our systems through our mouths, eyes, and noses either via hand-to-hand contact, contact with a contaminated object (such as a cup shared with a sick person), or through air droplets from a sick person coughing, sneezing, or talking in your proximity.  Once the nasty little virus has made its way into our system, it multiplies and causes the symptoms we all know so well:  Scratchy throat, coughing, sneezing, runny nose, headaches, congestion, and malaise, among others.  In general, a cold is considered to be an infection of the upper respiratory tract, and most people recover from it within seven to ten days. 

Understanding Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is derived from an Australian plant with the scientific name of Melaleuca alternifolia - you may know tea tree oil by its other name, melaleuca oil.  Tea tree oil is often used topically because it is a strong antibacterial agent and has a history of treating acne, athlete's foot, bad breath, and dandruff.  Tea tree oil is also cited to have antiviral and antifungal properties.  Its useful forms include as an oil, in soaps or lotions, and as household products; it should be noted that tea tree oil should never be ingested (we will discuss this in further detail below). 

What gives tea tree oil its antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties?  The oil is composed of over 100 different compounds, and the terpene hydrocarbons, monoterpenes, and sesquiterpenes each contribute to the aforementioned properties.  The oil also includes volatile hydrocarbons, giving agency to the oil for use aromatically and topically

Using Tea Tree Oil for Colds

In addition to the previously listed uses, tea tree oil can also provide relief from congestion and respiratory tract infections, such as those that stem from colds.  The antiviral properties of tea tree oil are particularly what makes it helpful in fighting and staving off colds, and these properties stem from a naturally-occurring chemical called terpinen-4-ol.  Furthermore, the oil's pungent, almost-citrus-y scent works to help clear up congestion, helping to bring further relief to coughs.  And while it is doing the dirty work of helping you get better from that cold, it also works as a natural disinfectant. 

Tea tree oil can be used in your diffuser (5 drops or so), carefully inhaled from the bottle, or mixed with coconut oil and rubbed onto your chest or neck (2 to 4 drops of oil mixed with a teaspoon of coconut oil).  You can also add 5-8 drops to a warm bath to combine the therapeutic effects of the oil with the therapeutic effects of a relaxing soak in the tub. 

Precautions for Using Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil has been deemed to be generally safe but should not be used orally as it is toxic if ingested.  If ingested, tea tree oil can cause confusion, ataxia, and decreased consciousness.  While tea tree oil is safe for most people to use topically, some people do experience adverse reactions, including skin irritation/rash, itching, stinging, burning, scaling, redness, and dryness.  The use of tea tree oil is not advised for people with eczema, and one study indicated that recurrent exposures to tea tree oil may have led to increased growth of breast tissue in male youths. 

Final Thoughts

Tea tree oil can be an effective means of helping to prevent and reduce the symptoms of colds.  The antiviral properties of the oil can be used to kill viruses associated with cold symptoms, and the aromatic scent of the oil can aid in clearing up congestion, helping to sooth coughs and sore throats.  The main risks associated with tea tree oil can be avoided by not ingesting the oil and instead using it aromatically or topically.  This season, instead of going for the over-the-counter medications which are known to have unwanted side-effects, consider trying tea tree oil to bring relief to your colds and even help prevent them from catching in the first place.

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