The common cold is a virus infection of the upper respiratory tract (the nose and throat). There are at least 30 different strains of virus which can cause cold symptoms, and these are constantly mutating. While the mucous membranes of the nose and throat are inflamed as a result of the infection, they are far more vulnerable to attack by bacteria, and this can give rise to secondary infections, such as sinusitis, ear infections and bronchitis, which are more serious than the original cold.

Fortunately, there are quite a number of essential oils which will not only help to diminish the discomfort of a cold, but will help to reduce the risk of secondary infections, partly because the oils themselves are bactericidal and partly because they stimulate the body's own ability to fight off infection. Chief among these are Lavender, Eucalyptus, Tea tree (and the closely related Cajeput and Niaouli). Peppermint, Rosemary and Pine can also be used, and Thyme is a valuable inhalant for sore throats. Bathing with Marjoram will help to reduce shivers and aching, and also helps headaches associated with a cold.

The two most useful methods of use are inhalations and baths. A steam inhalation with appropriate essential oils combines several beneficial effects. It clears the congested nasal passages and soothes the inflamed mucous membrane; at the same time the essential oil will kill many bacteria, and some of the oils, especially Eucalyptus and Tea tree, have an inhibiting effect on the cold virus. Very hot steam, as hot as can be tolerated without actually burning the nose and throat, is, in itself, a hostile environment for viruses, and the addition of an antiviral oil increases the effectiveness of the steam. Use either of these two oils for inhalations in the earlier part of the day (alternating with Rosemary and Peppermint if you want a change), as they are all somewhat stimulant, and could interfere with sleep. At night, use inhalations of Lavender, which wili enhance sleep.

An evening bath with Lavender, alone or combined with Marjoram, will go a long way towards ensuring a good night's sleep, which in itself will help recovery. Some Lavender oil diffused in the bedroom is also good, especially if there is a cough. Garlic tablets or capsules, and fresh garlic in the diet will not only help to clear an existing cold, but are valuable in preventing colds. Tincture of Echinacea will help to boost the Immune System and fight of colds. A good level of nutrition with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables to provide Vitamin C will also help to prevent infection, and a high intake of Vitamin C (up to 10 grams in a day) has been shown to shorten the duration of a cold. These measures can be combined with aromatherapy methods for maximum benefit.

See also entries for COUGHS, INFLUENZA and SORE THROAT.

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