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Why Eucalyptus Can Be Dangerous for Treating Colds in Young Babies & Children

Posted by Karen Faulkner on
essential oils and babies, eucalyptus, Vicks, essential oils, vaporiser, baby has a cold
Aromatherapy or the use of essential oils therapy is known as the medicinal use of naturally extracted plant aromas used in promoting physical and emotional well-being. Aromatic plant oils have many helpful uses in managing minor medical issues, from treating burns, eczema and soothing irritated skin, to alleviating stress, helping sleep and relaxing the anxious mind.

Uses of Essential Oils

In babies older than 3 months, some essential oils can be used to help encourage sleep, calming anxiety, and relieving the symptoms of colic. Before applying essential oils to babies, it’s important to understand proper dilution ratios and application methods. Never ever apply undiluted essential oils directly onto the skin. The skin of a baby and young child is especially delicate and undiluted oils can and will burn their skin.

Essential oils are commonly used nowadays and many parents do not know how potentially dangerous they can be for babies and young children. I'm outing myself as a hippie/crunchy girl who loves crystals, energy healing and essential oils. I did my first course on aromatherapy and its uses over 30 years ago. I'm also a Reiki Master and I regularly use essential oils on adults. I also teach baby massage, however, I don't use essential oils on babies.

In a large research study in Cambodia eucalyptus, camphor and menthol were found to be harmful in young children.

There are many types of eucalyptus and it's important to know what TYPE OF EUCALYPTUS you are using. Babies and toddlers have very narrow airways and it is easy to block them. Using the wrong type of eucalyptus can block the narrow airways and cause respiratory distress. This is a dangerous issue particularly in atopic babies and children who have asthma.

Vapour rub

Vapour rubs such as Vicks, containing camphor, menthol and eucalyptus oil are a common treatment for colds and are applied to the neck and chest area. In the one large randomised controlled trial the actual harm of this treatment appeared to outweigh its benefits. No effect was found on alleviating runny noses. Scores for cough frequency and severity were improved compared with no treatment. And scores for child and parental sleep were both significantly improved. However, vapour rub significantly increased adverse events including burning sensation to the skin (28%), nose (14%) and eyes (16%). Rashes and inflammation of the skin occurred in 5% of patients using vapour rub.

Vicks Vapour Rub

Rubin et al, a research scientist decided to investigate Vicks vapour rub salve after they treated a baby that was admitted to the emergency room with severe respiratory distress following the application of Vicks directly under her nose. They examined the effect of the product on ferrets because their airway structure is similar to humans (both in anatomical structure and cellular composition).

The researchers tested the product on healthy ferrets and ferrets with tracheal airway inflammation, similar to a person with a chest infection. They measured how much mucus was secreted and collected in the airways, and how much fluid gathered in the lungs.

The results showed that not only did Vicks increase the rate of mucus secretion, in both normal and inflamed airways, it also reduced the rate at which the mucous cleared from the airways.

The findings confirm the product labelling stating clearly it should not be used on children under 2 years old. However many parents continue to use it on their babies and toddlers, rubbing it into their feet and chest, said Rubin.

Rubin stresses that you should never put Vick under the nose, whether adults or children.

"I also would follow the directions and never use it at all on children under age 2," he said.


Eucalyptus is a natural expectorant commonly used in helping unclog respiratory congestion. Making Eucalyptus a go-to favourite during the cold winter months. When using eucalyptus it is most important you know which TYPE of eucalyptus essential oil-based product you are using. The most common type of eucalyptus used is Eucalyptus Globulus.

Eucalyptus Radiata is a different species of eucalyptus than the more commonly found Eucalyptus Globulus. Children and young children should only use Eucalyptus Radiata. Whilst Eucalyptus Globulus (Blue Gum Eucalyptus) is perfectly safe for adults, it should never be used on children under the age of 2 years.

It is important to check with your family doctor, GP or your paediatrician before using eucalyptus to ease cold and respiratory symptoms.

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