How Essential Oils Are Used In Nursing
by Alice Compton
The use of essential oils in any aspect of healthcare can be a tricky subject. This is primarily because they are not, for lack of a better phrase, official medical treatments. The debate over essential oils as they relate to health is multi-faceted and complex, but the bottom line for a lot of people is that they are not FDA regulated. They should therefore not be treated as medicinal in the strictest terms. This does not, however, mean that essential oils can’t be put to use in a variety of scenarios. In fact, there are numerous situations in which nurses specifically are known to be open to the use and/or recommendation of essential oils with patients. This stems from the work of Jane Buckle, PhD, RN, who in the mid-'90s created the first clinical aromatherapy course for nurses and doctors throughout much of the U.S. This concept and course set the tone for what is now known as integrative medicine: the use of essential oils alongside conventional medicine in a safe and controlled manner, considering both oils' effects and patients' medicines and conditions. That is the foundational concept behind essential oils in nursing. To understand how the actual practice is performed despite a lack of FDA approval, one needs to recognize two key points. The first is that nurses have every right to recommend product and substances for the alleviation and/or management of symptoms. That is to say, a nurse can use aromatherapy and essential oils to help make a patient more comfortable, without equating the method with treatment of a condition. The latter would, at least from an ethical practice standpoint, require FDA approval. The former requires only understanding of essential oils’ benefits and of the condition of the patient in question. These points, however, are to be taken very seriously. Nurses combining these practices need to have comprehensive awareness of the possible effects of the oils at hand, as well as how they might react with patients' medications or conditions. A nurse without the proper knowledge and understanding in these regards can actually wind up causing additional, unnecessary harm. The second key point, meanwhile, is that we are also seeing nurses increasingly moving into specialty areas where the use of essential oils can be more welcome than it might be in some traditional hospital environments. Mostly because of the availability of online courses that allow practicing nurses to pursue online RN-to-BSN degree advancement, professionals in the field are finding it easier to pursue qualification in specific fields and settings. This is leading to more nurses in nursing homes, community centers, and home healthcare settings, to name a few examples. And incorporating something like essential oil is easier in these settings. As to how nurses incorporate essential oils in these and other settings, there are numerous possibilities. Stress Reduction This is a perfect example of how nurses can use essential oils for assistance, even if they can’t claim to use it for treatment in the strictest terms. Patients struggling with anxiety, fatigue, or other detriments to mental health cannot be medically treated or cured via essential oils. But a nurse can apply a number of different oils and aromatherapy practices to help instill a sense of calm and thereby alleviate symptoms when necessary. In some cases, a nurse may also pass on the knowledge of how this works, such that a patient gains the ability to use essential oils on his or her own when stress becomes overwhelming. Weight Loss Assistance The topic of aromatherapy and weight loss is one we’ve covered before, with the acknowledgement that this brand of therapy does not help patients to “shed pounds” in any direct sense. Unfortunately, there still aren’t reasonable shortcuts in that department! As we expressed though, essential oils can help patients who need to lose weight to manage some of the emotional highs and lows, and even versions of withdrawal that arise during the effort. In short, if a patient is working on losing weight, a nurse can help the process to be more comfortable through the use of these kinds of therapies. Relieving Pain & Discomfort This is a broad category, because nurses in all settings encounter patients with debilitating pain or discomfort. In these cases, essential oils and aromatherapy cannot be used to treat underlying causes, nor to “solve” the problem of pain, or rid the patient of it permanently. Used responsibly though, they can help to relieve pain and discomfort for short stretches of time — which particularly for chronically ill patients can be a godsend. Nurses using these methods should be very clear about which oils they’re using and why, and should be careful not to mistakenly irritate patients further. But with responsible use, these therapies can be instrumental in making patients in pain more comfortable. Energizing Patients This may actually be the most significant category, for two reasons. First is because there are numerous energizing essential oils and therapies that can be put to use, from peppermint to rosemary. And second, because there are countless kinds of patients for whom nurses might be interested in decreasing fatigue and boosting energy. Once again, the oils involved to not offer permanent solutions, but they can certainly be used to provide a pick-me-up to a patient struggling with a lack of energy due to a given condition, or even treatment. These are all areas in which nurses can practice integrative medicine, provided they have the aforementioned clarity regarding the potential ill effects and side effects of specific treatments. With this understanding, nurses can use aromatherapy effectively, and without overstepping the appropriate boundaries or these kinds of therapy. When using oils to supplement treatments rather than replace them, nurses can provide a lot of benefits that may otherwise be difficult to come by.