People Are Accidentally Poisoning Themselves with Essential Oils

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You’d have to be living off the grid or under a rock to have missed the resurgence of alternative medicines and essential oils. People everywhere are touting the ability to cure everything from nausea and headaches to the common cold (and, in some cases, more extreme illnesses) using nothing but plant, root, and herb extracts.

Essential oils are volatile chemical compounds extracted from plant materials via a distillation process that typically involves steaming. They’re used in perfumes, soaps, incense, and aromatherapy aids, along with traditional medicine therapies.

And they are known to have some health benefits when inhaled.


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But it turns out that even natural medicines require some research and training (whaaaaat), lest you poison yourself and those you love – and that goes double if you’re going to engage in the dubious practice of applying the oils to your skin, or ingesting them orally.

People are clearly ignoring that fact, though, because a recent study has shown that essential oil poisonings are becoming more frequent in Europe, the U.S., and in Australia.

The study appeared in the Medical Journal of Australia, and it analyzed data from the New South Wales Poisons Information Centre. They received a total of 4412 calls about essential oil poisoning between July 2014 and June 2018, with 2/3 of the cases involving children under 15.

There was a 16% increase between 2015 and 2018, showing a disturbing trend.

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Essential oils are labeled with a warning that they can “cause severe toxicity when ingested,” and the risks increase as the frequency with which the oils are being used goes, the authors explain.

“Clinical effects include vomiting, central nervous system depression or excitation, and aspiration pneumonitis.”

And it’s even worse for kids: Essential oils can also upset a person’s hormonal balance, a more concerning hazard when dealing with children who haven’t yet entered puberty, or who might be in the midst of it.

There has been at least a few cases of prepubescent boys developing enlarged breasts after applying tea tree and lavender oil to their skin.

It’s important to note that a number of the poisoning cases were due to someone mistaking the bottle for something like cough syrup, but others were due to people ingesting them on purpose.

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“Flow restrictors and child-resistant closures would be desirable, but containers are only required to have such closures when the essential oil volume exceeds 15 milliliters.”

Since 5 milliliters is enough to generate a severe toxicity in the product, these cases and others should serve as a warning for you to make sure properly secure any essential oils in your home.

I don’t know about you, but I would feel pretty bad if something I brought into my house to help my kids feel better ended up hurting them instead.

Just sayin’.