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Botanical Steam Inhalation To Reduce Congestion & Soothe Coughs

in Allergies, Eyes, Ears, Nose, & Throat, Home Treatments, Infectious Disease, Respiratory

Steam inhalation is a traditional and popular way to soothe, open, and comfort dry and irritated airways and to reduce congestion. Inhaling warm water vapor thins mucus and reduces inflammation in the lungs, throat and nasal passages. Inhaling pure water vapor is therapeutic on it’s own, but adding botanicals can boost the effects of steam inhalation with their anti-inflammatory, mucus thinning, and immune-boosting properties.  

Research shows that while steam inhalation is good for symptom relief and comfort, it doesn’t shorten the duration of the illness. To fight infections, the nutrients in Essential Immune for Kids and Essential Immune for Adults and the germ-fighting herbs found in Nature’s Biotic are good options. 

This article covers two types of steam inhalation: The traditional herbal face steam which is good for adults and older children, and shower steam inhalation which can be adapted for people of all ages. 

Steam inhalation has some safety concerns, especially for young children. The biggest risk is burns. Also, ingesting essential oils is dangerous. Some essential oils are too strong to be used for babies and toddlers. Kids should always be closely supervised during steam inhalation.   

Traditional Herbal Face Steam 

Traditional herbal face steams are simple and effective home remedies for reducing congestion and instilling a feeling of relaxation. Here are the instructions that I give to my patients.

  1. Select herbs and place them into a heat-safe bowl.
  2. Heat water to steaming, but not boiling, and pour over the herbs.
  3. Lean forward over the bowl until your face is 8-12 inches from the water, close your eyes, and inhale the water vapor for 2-5 minutes for kids or 10-15 minutes for adults. Don’t use facial steam for longer than is comfortable. Even a quick 30 seconds is beneficial. 
  4. Drape a towel over your head and shoulders to create a tent over the bowl to intensify the vapor inhalation (optional).

Many herbs will work in an herbal steam for congestion. The blend listed below focuses on easy-to-find herbs that are soothing, immune-stimulating, and germ-fighting. You can use dried or fresh herbs for this type of steam inhalation.  

Steam Inhalation Herbs For CongestionBotanical Steam Inhalation To Reduce Congestion - Dr. Green Mom

  • 3 tbsp thyme – fights germs and helps move mucus out of the lungs
  • 1 tbsp basil – fights germs and helps move mucus out of the lungs and nose 
  • 2 tbsp chamomile – soothes irritated tissues and calms the mind
  • 1 tbsp peppermint – opens the airways, reduces spasm, and fights germs
  • 1 tbsp lavender – fights germs, calms the mind, and reduces spasm

Safety Considerations For Traditional Steam Inhalation

  • Select a heat-safe bowl with a wide base to avoid tipping.
  • Do not lean on the bowl. Tired kids may be tempted to do this so it’s important to watch them closely. 
  • Keep eyes closed and directed away from steam.
  • Choose a quiet spot away from pets, rough-housing and other distractions. 
  • Stop the steam right away if discomfort of any kind occurs.
  • Use your judgment as a parent to decide if your child is old enough to sit quietly. As a general rule, I would avoid this type of treatment for kids under 8, but some professionals recommend 12.
  • Stay present and alert. I sit next to my daughter and rub her back.

Essential Oil Shower Steam

In our home we use shower steams more often than traditional herbal steams. I mentioned this  briefly in my Covid treatment guidelines. I find traditional herbal face steams more effective at reducing congestion and soothing irritation. However, there are benefits to using shower steam. 

  1. Shower steam inhalation is much easier. This is a big deal for parents at any time. It is an extra big deal if you have Covid-19 and are experiencing crushing fatigue. You can inhale steam from pure water or you can add essential oils. 
  2. Steam inhalations are safer for babies and small children. Run the shower until the bathroom is filled with steam and then sit with them and breathe the warm moist air for several minutes.

Essential Oils To Add To Shower Steams

There are many essential oils that you can add to a shower to boost the medicinal value of steam inhalation. Chances are if you’re in my community you already have some favorites! In our home, we like lavender, eucalyptus, peppermint, rosemary, thyme, fir, and vetiver. We add 2-5 drops of essential oil to the shower floor and let the vapor carry it into the air. 

For babies and toddlers, I skip the stronger medicinal oils and use lavender or pure water vapor without essential oils. Lavender is calming, soothing, antimicrobial, and most importantly safe. Kids over two can use most (but not all) of the same essential oils for inhalation that adults can. If kids find any of the oils uncomfortably strong, discontinue using them right away.  Always err on the side of gentleness when it comes to essential oils!

Safety Considerations For Shower Steams

  • Never leave babies or small children unattended.
  • Monitor babies and small children for signs of difficulty inhaling the warm, moist air.
  • Use age-appropriate essential oils. Some oils are too strong for babies and young children.
  • Use high-quality essential oils. Adulterated essential oils and synthetic fragrance oils can make it more difficult to breathe.

Summary

Steam inhalation can help reduce the symptoms of coughs and congestion. Herbs or essential oils can be added for their medicinal benefits. 

When dealing with hot water, burns and scalds are a concern. Take appropriate safety precautions.

Though steam inhalations are great for improving symptoms, they don’t shorten the duration of coughs and colds. For more information about how to treat coughs, see this article: Natural Treatment for Coughs – Dr. Green Mom 

References:

Scarborough, A., Scarborough, O., Abdi, H., & Atkins, J. (2021). Steam inhalation: More harm than good? Perspective from a UK burns centre. Burns : journal of the International Society for Burn Injuries, 47(3), 721–727. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.burns.2020.08.010

Vathanophas, V., Pattamakajonpong, P., Assanasen, P., & Suwanwech, T. (2021). The effect of steam inhalation on nasal obstruction in patients with allergic rhinitis. Asian Pacific journal of allergy and immunology, 39(4), 304–308. https://doi.org/10.12932/AP-090818-0393

Ichiba, T., Kakiuchi, K., Suzuki, M., & Uchiyama, M. (2019). Warm Steam Inhalation before Bedtime Improved Sleep Quality in Adult Men. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2019, 2453483. https://doi.org/10.1155/2019/2453483

la Marca, G., Barp, J., Frenos, S., Mugelli, A., Galli, L., Calistri, E., Biasucci, G., De Masi, S., & Guerrini, R. (2021). Thermal inactivation of SARS COVID-2 virus: Are steam inhalations a potential treatment?. Life sciences, 265, 118801. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lfs.2020.118801

Baartmans, M., Kerkhof, E., Vloemans, J., Dokter, J., Nijman, S., Tibboel, D., & Nieuwenhuis, M. (2012). Steam inhalation therapy: severe scalds as an adverse side effect. The British journal of general practice : the journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners, 62(600), e473–e477. https://doi.org/10.3399/bjgp12X652337

Flaman, Z., Pellechia-Clarke, S., Bailey, B., & McGuigan, M. (2001). Unintentional exposure of young children to camphor and eucalyptus oils. Paediatrics & child health, 6(2), 80–83. https://doi.org/10.1093/pch/6.2.80

Sadlon, A. E., & Lamson, D. W. (2010). Immune-modifying and antimicrobial effects of Eucalyptus oil and simple inhalation devices. Alternative medicine review : a journal of clinical therapeutic, 15(1), 33–47.

Sai Chandar, D., Prashanthi, M., Laxman Kumar, C., & Amith Kumar, C. (2021). Eucalyptus Oil-Induced Seizures in Children: A Single-Center Prospective Study. Cureus, 13(3), e14109. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.14109

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