Inhalations have been traditionally used for many centuries to ease problems in the respiratory tract - colds, catarrh, sinusitis, sore throats, coughs, etc. The most usual method is to put some appropriate plant material in a bowl of near-boiling water, lean over the bowl with a large towel enveloping both the bowl and one's head, and inhale the steam for five or more minutes. Literally hundreds of different herbs and plants have been used for this purpose at different times and in various countries.
Essential oils give us a very simple and effective way of making an inhalation, by adding three or four drops of a suitable oil to a bowl of steaming water, and inhaling it as described above. There are also several forms of electrical apparatus for generating steam for inhaling, the simplest and most readily available being sold under the name of a 'facial sauna'. It can, as its name implies, be used for skin treatments, but is also a very neat and convenient way of making a steam inhalation. If using this, or any similar apparatus, you will need to put in only one drop of essential oil, as only a very small amount of water is used to produce the steam.
Inhalations should be very carefully monitored if the person using them is known to suffer from asthma, hayfever or any other allergy. If this is so, they should use the inhalation for only 30 seconds on the first occasion. If this provokes no adverse reaction, the time can be increased to 1 minute for the next inhalation a few hours later, and gradually increased to 3 to 5 minutes.
Children need close supervision the entire time that they are taking an inhalation to ensure that they do not risk scalding themselves.
For suggestions about which essential oils to use, look at the entries under CATARRH, COLDS, SINUSITIS, ETC.