HOUSTON - Essential oils have been used for hundreds if not thousands of years. Some are thought to be beneficial in relieving pain, aiding in kids' sleep or providing a natural decongestant.
Allison White, a mother of three girls, believes in the power of essential oils so much, she sells them. She promises this popular holistic remedy can to do everything from purify a home to refine skin and enhance wellness.
However, if they are used improperly, doctors say essential oils can be deadly.
"Many of them have been associated with all sorts of toxicity both acutely, chronically, and in some cases interaction with other drugs. Some of the worst results are seizures and death," said Dr. Spencer Greene, Texas Children's Hospital director of medical toxicology and assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers, or AAPCC, released a report last December that said in 2015, there were 11,467 pediatric exposures reported to poison-control centers.
"Keep in mind that AAPCC cannot speak for national actual exposures because they are not all reported to poison centers," said Angela Gonzales, associate manager of communications.
According to the report, adverse reactions are on the rise, although mostly not severe. There are four major outcomes and about 2,400 minor to moderate outcomes.
The highest number of complaints where an oil was identified involved tea tree, eucalyptus, cinnamon and clove oils.
Greene said he sees an average of two to three kids per month for excessive doses.
"I do caution parents in that there are a lot of potential unknowns. When you buy these essential oils, you may not know what you are getting," Greene said.
It's difficult to know what is in them since they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and they're becoming more widely available at organic grocery stores, Walmart and countless online retailers.
White doesn't disagree. In fact, she researches all of the oils her family uses. She visits the farm where her Young Living oils come from to guarantee they are pure.
"When I'm out and about and I see oils at the dollar store or just on the end cap of a retail store, sometimes that gives me a pause for concern and think, 'OK, what are these? Where did they come from?'" White said. "I always like to look at the source of the oils, how they were bottled, how the plants were grown, what chemicals, were there any chemicals used on the plants as far as fertilizer goes?"
Since that's impossible for almost everyone else, White warns the most critical takeaway is to figure out a proper dilution ratio.
"Dilute one drop (of essential oil) to one drop of carrier oil," White said. Her company also suggests that this dilution be adjusted for younger children.
Carrier oil is any vegetable, olive, grapeseed oil that can dilute the potency of essential oils when they are mixed together.
"I say start low and go slow and see what their little sensitivities and little bodies can handle and what helps them to thrive and be healthy," she said.
Greene encouraged parents to keep in mind that a small amount tolerated well on skin can still be potent if ingested.
"Often times, a little is good but more is toxic," he said. "Some of the most potent toxins in the world are natural."
Essential oils can interact with prescribed and over-the-counter medications. It's always important to tell your doctor everything you use for wellness.
Anyone can call AAPCC with concerns regarding exposure to anything harmful. AAPCC provides free, expert information and treatment advice, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, through the national Poison Help line: 1-800-222-1222. Calls are answered primarily by certified specialists in poison information (e.g., specially trained nurses, toxicologists, pharmacists, and physicians).
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