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When to NOT use essential oils (Essential oils can cause seizures in kids)

When to NOT use essential oils (Essential oils can cause seizures in kids)

 

1/3/2015. Update from Dr. Erika: DON’T THROW OUT YOUR ESSENTIAL OILS!  I’ve been getting a lot of comments from folks who read this article and are terrified to use essential oils now.  Please, read the article carefully – topical or diffused essential oils can be very safe and effective in kids when used correctly!  Remember to adjust dose to your child’s weight – if 1-2 drops is effective for an adult, then 1/2, 1/5, or 1/10 of a drop may be effective (and safe) for your child.  

When to NOT use essential oils

Are you an essential oil user?  Chances are the answer is yes!

Recently there has been a huge rise in the use of essential oils from some popular MLM companies like Young Living and Doterra. BUT – with every new craze comes some good news and bad news…

The good news:

love the fact that so many families have thrown out their Glade Plug-in air fresheners, or other synthetic spray air fresheners.  Synthetic air fresheners are notoriously horrible products, in my opinion.  The Environmental Working Group (ewg.org) rated 150 products with a grade D for safety, and 78 products with a grade F.  (Only 11 got a grade A, and one of those was baking soda!) They even have a warning on their website saying “Avoid air fresheners: they can cause allergies and only cover up bad odors.”  I really, really, really, really, really don’t like synthetic air fresheners.  They are known to have phthalates and other substances which interfere with our hormones and are known to cause cancer.  Using a vaporizer for essential oils is a much better way to diffuse fragrance and naturally reduce odor-causing bacteria.

The second piece of good news: I love it when patients have essential oils on hand.  I do actually use essential oils a lot in my practice, usually topically or in steam inhalations.  Lavender, tea tree, and thyme are my favorite three to have on hand.  These are what I usually recommend families to keep in their herbal first aid kit. (Frankincense would be next.)

Okay, on to the bad news.

As a physician, I am very concerned about the rise in inappropriate use of essential oils.

Did you know that essential oils can cause seizures in children?

Essential oils are the distilled volatile aromatic constituents of the plant that are highly concentrated. Remember that one drop of essential oil is equivalent to 15-40 cups of medicinal tea, or up to 10 teaspoons of tincture. Would you ever give a child 40 cups of tea, or 10 teaspoons of tincture? My goodness, I hope not.

There have been several documented cases of seizures in children (and a few in adults) who have taken essential oils inappropriately.  (You can check out case reports herehere, here, and here).

The bottom line is: essential oils can be neurotoxic to children.  I never recommend internal use of essential oils in kids.  Even in adults I save internal use of essential oils for serious infections or other conditions that are unresponsive to normal doses of herbs (in tincture or tea form).  Topical or vaporized essential oils can be safe and very effective in children when used correctly!

So here are some guidelines for using essential oils in kids:

1) Always use a carrier oil when applying essential oils to the skin.  A “carrier oil” is a type of base oil, to slightly dilute the essential oil and protect the skin against direct contact with the essential oil.  Essential oils should never be applied “neat” (undiluted) to the skin. I cannot tell you the number of times I have seen allergic contact dermatitis (big ugly skin rash) with undiluted oils! Mix 1-2 drops of essential oil in 1-3 teaspoons of a carrier oil like olive oil, coconut oil, almond oil, avocado oil, or other mild, gentle, skin-friendly oil.  Mix essential oils with carrier oils immediately before applying them.  This prevents rancidity.

2) Keep oils away from airways (nose and mouth).  One thing I really like about DoTerra’s recommendations is that they usually tell parents to apply essential oils to the feet of children and babies.  This is a great idea, because it provides space between the airways and the source of the essential oil.  Just make sure your baby doesn’t then put his feet in his mouth! Also make sure the essential oils are mixed with a carrier oil first.

3) Do not use vaporizers in a house where a child or adult lives with a respiratory disease.  I have seen a number of asthma patients who were constantly having their airways aggravated from aerosolized essential oils.  Use extreme caution when using essential oils in kids with asthma.  Most essential oils will inflame a sensitive respiratory tract. I have heard from some of my naturopathic colleagues who have seen frightening cases of children completely unable to breathe because of essential oil-induced asthma attacks.

4) Do not use essential oils in teething recipes. No, no no.  This is not safe!  Stick with chamomile or lemon-balm tea popsicles. (Super yummy and babies love them!)  Clove oil can be used topically (cloves infused in olive oil, not clove essential oil), but use with caution, because if a baby swallows clove oil or any numbing agent it has the potential to numb the gag reflex, and babies can end up aspirating their own saliva.

5) Do not give children essential oils internally.  I highly recommend limiting internal use of essential oils to use under physician supervision only, for kids OR for adults.  Once again, I have heard from colleagues who have seen everything from ulcers, to chronic gastroenteritis, to asthma, flaring of skin lesions (eczema, acne, psoriasis, you name it), migraines, chronic heartburn, and many more, from taking internal essential oils.  Again – remember that one drop of essential oil is equivalent to 15-40 cups of medicinal tea, or up to 10 teaspoons of tincture.  Products that have mixtures of essential oils and herbs tend to be safer. The exception to this rule: essential oils that are used for flavoring only tend to be safe (e.g., orange essential oil to flavor ice cream) – in this case the total amount of essential oil is very, very low.

6) Never ever take essential oils internally if you are pregnant.  I recommend using extreme caution with topical essential oils and vaporized essential oils.  Remember, essential oils very easily end up in the blood stream from topical or vaporized (and inhaled) use.  (Topical by fat absorption through the skin, vaporized by diffusion in the alveoli of the lung.)  Essential oils do cross the placenta and a fetus is extremely susceptible to the neurotoxic components.  Most of the time this ends up being a non-issue though – pregnancy makes women so sensitive to smells that I know very few women who would use too much essential oil – our bodies do a great job of telling us when to stop!

At this point I am sure I will get hundreds of hate e-mails from avid essential oil users telling me how great they are and how much they helped their own personal health.  I am in no way denying the fabulous benefits of essential oils!  And they can be used internally – with caution!! But for every great success story of how much essential oils have helped, I get to see the other story, of how essential oils have worsened.   So please, coming from Dr. Erika here, please use essential oils wisely, and save yourself a trip to my office – or worse, the Emergency Department.

Another note from Dr. Erika: Regarding the comments section – I’m trying, but I just can’t get to every comment anymore.  If you are asking a specific treatment question (like “What EO can I use for _______ symptom) – I cannot answer those, you will need to ask your physician for guidance. Remember that symptoms are just symptoms of a bigger problem!  If you need to find a naturopathic physician near you who has experience with essential oils, I recommend checking out the Pediatric Association of Naturopathic Physicians, or the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians

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Erika Krumbeck

Erika Krumbeck, ND is founder of NaturopathicPediatrics.com and the owner of Montana Whole Health, a naturopathic clinic in Missoula, Montana. She received her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University and is a licensed physician in the state of Montana. Dr. Krumbeck is one of few physicians specializing in the treatment of chronic health conditions in children. 

Dr. Krumbeck likes to practice her own healthy lifestyle with her wonderful husband Jason, a physical therapist, and their children Annika and Leopold. 

She is a professional member of the Pediatric Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

Comments:

  • Avatar
    Heidi
    April 24, 2022 at 6:42 pm

    That’s crazy. I’m so sorry. My son just started having focal aware seizures. Recommended by a few in similar situations that frankincense worked for I gave it a try and it seemed to lessen my son’s so far. I was very thankful for that. Guess it goes to show it’s just like anything else, what is good for one may not be for another.

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    September 19, 2019 at 9:49 pm
  • Avatar
    Tonya Gilbert
    August 21, 2019 at 11:12 am

    I’m a PA and I’ve never had issues with my kids using essential oils. I’ve broken fevers with topical application of peppermint and resolved GI upset with diluted Digestzen topically. Articles that scare the public are counterproductive particularly when the title is worded to alarm. We have got to do better.

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    August 5, 2019 at 7:08 pm
  • Avatar
    Julia Stearns @ Healthirony
    June 27, 2019 at 5:58 am

    The essential oils can help us live a healthier life. I think lavender oil not bad. It’s a very gentle oil that is even great for use with children.

  • Avatar
    JenJen
    January 16, 2019 at 10:08 am

    Great article! I ran across this in a Google search. So many think essential oils are the cure-all for everything. I am also posting as a WARNING to other parents in essential oil use. Our daughter does have epilepsy, so she is already compromised. However, I had heard that Frankincense was effective to use in halting a seizure. We decided to try it, and it made things a million times worse! We simply applied under her nose (as we had been told), and it nearly sent her to the hospital with a seizure that would not stop. She was dazed and confused and just kept repeating the same words over and over again. This was highly unusual behavior for her. The one and only time this ever happened was immediately after the use of Frankincense. So! We are now VERY cautious using essential oils. Though they can be useful, they nothing to mess around with. Proceed with caution! Thanks, again, for shining some light on this topic, and breaking through all of the misinformation about EO “being perfectly safe” on the internet.

  • Avatar
    Jessica
    November 29, 2018 at 10:40 am

    Thank you for this article! Helped me so much.

  • Pingback: Risks and Dangers of Essential Oils | Wellness Mama
    July 27, 2018 at 2:56 pm
  • Avatar
    Lacy Rasor
    May 28, 2018 at 8:00 pm

    Are products like the mosquito-repelling Simba bracelets or stickers safe for use with infants? They claim to use essential oils to keep mosquitos away. My baby is 3 months old and I’m not sure what is safe for her. Thanks!

  • Avatar
    merriejayne
    April 11, 2018 at 3:34 am

    Thank you for this article. I’ve been studying natural remedies with indigenous plants and essential oils for the last 27 years, educated in plant sciences and sustainable horticulture. I’ve been trying to educate people on proper use of oils and which would be safe to ingest if absolutely necessary, there are not many that are. Those I do recommend I always insist upon dilution of some sort and therapeutic grade oils. Personally i use young loving as i am familiar with how their herbs are grown and what is used on them. I also have been growing my own herbs in my own professional hydroponics business, absolutely organic and chemical free. It is difficult to get people to understand why one oil might be okay but not all, even more so to get them to understand that each person is different and may find different results. I agree with you in whereas i never recommend children ingesting oils. The techniques i recommend to my patients (I’m not a doctor, i run a small private compassion collective where patients are referred to me by one doctor alone for the last 18 years) are carefully designed for each individual and we work together to find the best mix/mixes that will help them.

  • Avatar
    Paulina Miedema
    March 12, 2018 at 5:24 pm

    Want to really get scared from being a parent and not know what to do when you see your child have seizures……..
    I was so glad to start using Doterra essential oils with my family last July, thinking my daughter would finally have some relief for being sick nine months a year for the past three years! First to get sick and last to get better and all the Keystone PEDS doctors said she is just susceptible and needs to eat healthier. My kid has rarely has fruit drinks on occasion and eats more fruits and veggies than any other kid I know. This school year started third grade and there were problems with following directions then the homework was too hard (2 hrs to do a 20 min tasks). Physically aggressive behaviors with throwing, hitting, screaming, crying, punching, etc started and then the confusion, dizziness, and blank stares here and there. She can read at a fourth grade level and she was getting stuck repeating a first grade book sentence with repeating the sentence 4-7 times. It was hard to see that. She would have incontinence and we thought she was drinking too much. We thought she was doing too much with two extracurricular activities. Headaches and feeling weird were starting to occur more often in the following months. Several emails among her teachers to see why she was having so many problems not hearing the teachers and following along. A pushed evaluation with PEDS and hearing specialists to see why her ears were bothering her and many audiologist examinations but passed tests. It was not an auditory processing problem despite hearing and processing problems. The last audiologist exam my daughter had a blank stare and it was referred as she was just listening intently. They asked if my daughter had an MRI and I asked why she would need one. That got me checking and so I had a brainstorm with the ENT of all the symptoms I finally listed together. They were increasing and continuing to cause problems. We’ve never told the doctor all this because we were mostly concerned with her being sick so often. All these symptoms alone would not be noticeable unless you watched her.

    Long story short…The ER ran blood and urine labs and tried to induce a seizure with hyperventilation with no luck and the next day was a PEDS appt and referral to a PEDS neurologist for what appeared to be absence seizures. I went home and pulled everything from medicines to creams to oils and vitamins out of the shelves and packed it in a box not knowing if it was environmental. I cut out all Doterra essential oil products on 2/26, which was two days before the the two hour EEG and seizure trigger tests with hyperventilation and bright, flashing lights. Increasing occurrences of all her symptoms greatly reduced in a matter of weeks. Its like her brain is on hyper drive again. She passed two division skills tests in one day and the next day she passed three more skills tests. Through the year she averaged one skill in multiplication or division in about 4-15 days because she couldn’t remember. Back in December, we found out out she had asthma and treatment was received but I never stopped Doterra because we all used it. Last week Tuesday, I threw away the Doterra toothpaste my daughter was using.

    Excellent article read if you have children using Doterra Onguard and Breather products that have eucalyptus oil; a seizure inducer!

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    Format: Abstract

    Send to
    J Neurol. 1999 Aug;246(8):667-70.
    Plant-induced seizures: reappearance of an old problem.
    Burkhard PR1, Burkhardt K, Haenggeli CA, Landis T.
    Author information
    Abstract

    Several plant-derived essential oils have been known for over a century to have epileptogenic properties. We report three healthy patients, two adults and one child, who suffered from an isolated generalized tonic-clonic seizure and a generalized tonic status, respectively, related to the absorption of several of these oils for therapeutic purposes. No other cause of epilepsy was found, and outcome was good in the two adult cases, but the course has been less favorable in the child. A survey of the literature shows essential oils of 11 plants to be powerful convulsants (eucalyptus, fennel, hyssop, pennyroyal, rosemary, sage, savin, tansy, thuja, turpentine, and wormwood) due to their content of highly reactive monoterpene ketones, such as camphor, pinocamphone, thujone, cineole, pulegone, sabinylacetate, and fenchone. Our three cases strongly support the concept of plant-related toxic seizure. Nowadays the wide use of these compounds in certain unconventional medicines makes this severe complication again possible.

    PMID:
    10460442

    [Indexed for MEDLINE]

    Publication type, MeSH terms, Substances
    LinkOut – more resources

  • Avatar
    Tasha
    January 28, 2018 at 2:09 pm

    I have used the on guard Doterra rollerball, the one that’s pre made for families, topically on my daughter (8) down the back of her neck/spine in the morning before school to help builder her immune system and hopefully aid in her not bringing home any big sicknesses. I don’t do this religiously, but now that flu is going around so bad, I’ve done it a couple times a week or so. Anyway, this weekend she came home with a headache and low grade fever. I set her up in her room for the weekend so the rest of us didn’t catch whatever was brewing, made sure she had plenty of liquids and rest. And it stayed low grade for a couple days and today it’s gone. Now, a few months ago I swear, she had low grade fever/headache for like a month or more. I know I used that roller ball on her several times trying to beat whatever it was naturally. And we did take her to the doctor, they drew blood, nothing ever came of it. I’m wondering if this could be a cause from the roller ball?? That’s the only thing I can connect. And she seems to get sick a lot, always has, so I don’t know, I just thought her immune system was poor. I only started with that roller ball this year and not too often.

  • Avatar
    indiabrahams
    January 8, 2018 at 3:03 am

    Hi Dr. Erika,
    I just started using diluted frankinscence on my toddler to help with issues. I just noticed a week later small raised bumps on his belly. I haven’t done anything or introduced anything new to him lately. Can applying frankincense to the bottom of his feet cause this.

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