Nasal Inhaler: Aromatherapy’s Unsung Hero
Updated: Sep 25
One of the most 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 strong 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 they are trapped by olfactory membranes. 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 known to be 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 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 the treatment of stress and anxiety-related conditions, which can be seen as an overload of the sympathetic nervous system.
Aromatherapy Nasal Inhalers are a very easy tool to encourage your brain/ nervous system responses and to 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.
Since the essential oils are in the protective shell of the nasal inhaler tube there is very little evaporation of the essential oils and they have a very long shelf life. I have used nasal inhalers that are still potent for six months or longer.
The use of nasal inhalers has fewer precautions and safety issues to consider than other forms of aromatherapy applications, such as topical.
There are several parts to a nasal inhaler; the cover, insert, base cap, and a felt wick. If the felt wick is wrapped in a plastic coating you may choose to substitute this for a cotton pad. If you are using a cotton pad you may need to increase the number of essential oil drops.
Enjoy some of our favorite nasal inhaler blends:
#1 Nasal Inhaler- Mental Stimulant
This blend is effective to promote mental stimulation, alertness, and focus. Saturate the felt wick of a nasal inhaler with five to seven drops of each of these essential oils:
Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)
Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)
Application: Inhale as needed for mental stimulation and clarity. Precautions: These essential oils are stimulating to the autonomic nervous system. Do NOT use in the evening after 6:00 p.m. or for children under five years of age.
#2 Nasal Inhaler- Sweet Dreams
This blend is effective to promote calm and relaxation and to support restful sleep. Saturate the felt wick of a nasal inhaler with these essential oils:
6 drops - Lavender (Lavandula officinalis) 7 drops - Tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa) 5 drops - Cape Chamomile (Eriocephalus punctulatus) - Sweeter fragrance than Roman chamomile. 5 drops - Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanioides)
Application: Inhale as needed to promote calming and rest. This blend can be used day or night and for children over five years of age.
#3 Nasal Inhaler- Citrus Happiness
This blend is effective to promote emotional uplifting. Saturate the felt wick of a nasal inhaler with these essential oils:
6 drops - Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi)
7 drops - Orange (Citrus sinensis)
5 drops - Mandarin (Citrus reticulata)
2 drops - Spearmint (Mentha spicata)
Application: Inhale as needed to calm emotions; this blend is balancing and centering. This blend can also be used in the evening and for children over five years of age.
#4 Nasal Inhaler- Respiratory Relief
This blend is effective to open the sinuses and ease breathing. Saturate the felt wick of a nasal inhaler with six drops of each of these essential oils:
Spruce (Picea mariana)
Cypress (Cupressus semperverians)
Cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana)
Pinyon Pine (Pinus edulis)
Application: Inhale as needed to keep sinuses clear and open breathing. This blend can also be used in the evening and for children over five years of age.
(1) Dechen, Shanti; Clinical Aromatherapy Level 1 Text; Crestone, CO; 2020; p.27- 29, 47, 121.
(2) Yale Scientific: http://www.yalescientific.org/2011/11/aromatherapy-exploring-olfaction/
(3) PubMed: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23531112