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Nasal Inhaler: Aromatherapy’s Unsung Hero

Updated: Mar 3, 2022

One of the unique features of aromatherapy as an herbal healing modality is the variety of applications. Of these, it is the aromatherapy inhalation application, the nasal inhaler, that is extremely effective, truly aromatherapy’s unsung hero. And, here is why….

The sense of smell acts mostly on the subconscious level of the brain, yet it offers us more than 10,000 times more information than the senses of sight, taste, and touch combined.

The sense of smell (olfaction) was one of the earliest senses to arise in evolution, and it is well developed in animals'. Olfaction is the process of the brain perceiving odor. It is utilized to detect odors of food, enemies, territory, and the opposite sex. In humans and animals, olfaction evokes emotional reactions that result in big behavior changes. The limbic system is where our memories, instincts, and vital functions are controlled and processed.

When an essential oil has inhaled the odor, molecules travel up your nose, where olfactory membranes trap them. They are then carried to the limbic system, where they pass between the major glands in the brain. From the limbic system, odor messages go to the hypothalamus, which sends messages to the other parts of the brain (pituitary, pineal, and amygdala) and body, stimulating the autonomic nervous system (ANS), endocrine system, organ functions, secretions of antibodies, neurotransmitters, hormones and enzymes throughout the body.

“Smell is the only sense that goes directly to the limbic system, bypassing the cerebral cortex (our intellectual part of the brain). The other senses of sight and hearing must register with the cortex before entering other parts of the brain.

Many bodily functions such as digestive activity, respiration, hormone balance, heart rate, blood pressure, stress levels, pain reduction, and memory can be regulated through the connection between the limbic system and other parts of the brain and body.

The effect of essential oils on the mind and emotions is extraordinary: uplifting depression, transforming anxiety into clarity, and stress into tranquility. Essential oils like chamomile are sedative or stimulating like rosemary: addressing the autonomic nervous system to produce the desired effect. “ (1)

Odor messages are one of the fastest ways to achieve beneficial psychological or physiological effects. This extraordinary effect can take place in as little as ten seconds after inhaling an essential oil!

The olfactory system is the only sensory system that involves the amygdala and the limbic system in its primary processing pathway. This link explains why fragrances are often linked to specific memories. For example, if you have had a positive experience eating oranges as a child, then the fragrance of orange essential oil may also induce positive thoughts as an adult.

As stated in a Yale Scientific article, “Say, for instance, when you inhale an orange essential oil, some of the minute molecules dissolve in the mucus lining of the olfactory epithelium on the roof of the nasal cavity. There, the molecules stimulate olfactory receptors. Olfactory sensory neurons carry the signals from the receptors to the olfactory bulb, which filters and begins processing the input signals of the orange fragrance. Mitral cells then carry the output signals from the olfactory bulb to the olfactory cortex, which allows you to perceive and recognize the tangy fragrance of the orange essential oil.

Interestingly, the mitral cells do not only lead to the olfactory cortex; they also carry the signals from the orange scent to other areas in the brain’s limbic system. Some mitral cells connect directly to the amygdala, the brain structure involved in emotional learning and memory. “ (2)

The direct effect that odor can have on the hypothalamus perhaps suggests why aromatherapy is considered one of the most valuable tools in treating stress and anxiety-related conditions, which can be seen as an overload of the sympathetic nervous system.

Aromatherapy Nasal Inhalers are a straightforward tool to encourage your brain/ nervous system responses and stimulate your neurotransmitters. “Inhalation of essential oils can communicate signals to the olfactory system and stimulate the brain to exert neurotransmitters (e.g., serotonin and dopamine) thereby further regulating mood.” (3)

The use of aromatherapy nasal inhalers is a much more concentrated inhalation application than just putting a drop of essential oil on a cotton ball, tissue, or even in a room diffuser. They are so easy and convenient to have on your desk, in your purse, backpack, pocket, or by your bedside table.