Nilgiri oil, also known as eucalyptus oil, is an ingredient often used in over-the-counter cold remedies and cough syrups. Many people use eucalyptus as a treatment for relieving congestion due to colds, flu, sinusitis and bronchitis. Cold products containing eucalyptus oil include chest rub ointments, cough drops and decongestants. Despite its medicinal properties, eucalyptus can cause adverse side effects in children if not used exactly according to a physician's instructions.
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Always talk to your family doctor or pediatrician before treating your child's congestion with cold products containing eucalyptus oil. Eucalyptus can interact with certain medications and should not be used by those who suffer asthma or seizure disorders unless directed by a physician. Although inhaling eucalyptus steam can loosen clogged nasal and bronchial passages, eucalyptus oil can be dangerous to children if swallowed or applied to the skin.
Some pediatricians recommend adding a diluted form of eucalyptus oil in steam to help loosen phlegm and relieve a child's congestion. Full-strength eucalyptus oil can be toxic to children and adults when taken by mouth or applied directly to the skin. Do not apply any products containing eucalyptus oil to a child's face, particularly around the nose and eyes. If your child is younger than 6, ask your doctor if it is safe to give her cough drops that contain eucalyptus. Generally, health care providers advise against giving children under 6 an oral decongestant of any kind because of the potential for harmful side effects.
Eucalyptus oil is made from the plant's leaves and tips of the branches. A chemical in the oil loosens bronchial mucus, helping your child to cough up phlegm. The leaves of the eucalyptus tree contain tannins, flavonoids and an essential oil that has expectorant and anti-inflammatory properties. Tannins are chemicals with properties that may help reduce swelling of the nasal passages and inflammation of the upper respiratory tract. Flavonoids are a type of antioxidant that prevents the body's cells from releasing histamine -- a chemical that causes the production of excess nasal mucus. Histamine release is a reaction to the body's inflammatory response to a cold.
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Adding a drop of eucalyptus oil to hot water and inhaling it can help relieve chest and nasal congestion. Inhaling eucalyptus vapors helps relieve sinus pressure by draining fluids from the Eustachian tubes. Running a hot steam vaporizer in your child's bedroom at night can help keep your child's breathing passages clear of congestion. A drop each of eucalyptus and lavender essential oils added to a vaporizer can help break up congestion faster, according to Dr. William Sears, author and nationally-known pediatrician. Discontinue the use of a vapor steam if your child begins to wheeze. Wheezing is a sign that the eucalyptus vapors are too strong.