Eucalyptus Oil for Chest Congestion in Infants

Home remedies can be just as effective as prescribed or over-the-counter medications when it comes to treating a baby's sniffles and stuffiness, Louis Vernacchio, assistant professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health and of pediatrics at the School of Medicine at Boston University, tells "BU Today." But parents should check with their pediatricians before using common adult congestion remedies such as eucalyptus oil.

Eucalyptus oil may not be the best treatment for a sick baby. (Image: FamVeld/iStock/Getty Images)

Naturopathic medicine promotes a holistic approach to health with minimal use of surgeries and drugs. Please make sure to consult your physician before attempting naturopathic remedies at home.

The Facts

Eucalyptus oil has a history of use for a variety of uses, including loosening up phlegm in respiratory passages that causes chest congestion, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Eucalyptus oil is most commonly applied directly to the chest or inhaled through a vaporizer to treat congestion--but though those treatments are safe for adults, parents are wise to be cautious about using them with infants.


Eucalyptus oil in any form should be avoided for children younger than 2, according to MedLine Plus, the online health information resource maintained by the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. According to MedLine Plus, parents should be especially wary of applying eucalyptus oil directly to a child's skin, particularly the skin around his nose and mouth.


Eucalyptus oil can have serious side effects for infants, warns MedLine Plus. Eucalyptus oil, applied topically or ingested, may interfere with the function of the brain and nervous system, leading to drowsiness, seizures and even coma, MedLine Plus says. An infant who takes eucalyptus oil internally may also suffer abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, wheezing and difficulty breathing.


Parents may think a small amount of eucalyptus oil might be safe for infant use, but MedLine Plus says serious reactions can occur with even a small amount of ingested oil. And while the amount of eucalyptus ingested through vapor might not be significant enough to affect an adult, MedLine Plus says children can ingest enough eucalyptus oil through a vaporizer to cause a reaction.

Expert Insight

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, eucalyptus oil can trigger asthma attacks, so if there is a family history of asthma, it's especially important to avoid using eucalyptus oil to treat a baby's chest congestion.

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