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Aromatherapy For Headache Treatment

Aug 8, 2008
For thousands of years aromatherapy headache treatments have been used for migraine and tension headache. You may have heard of it before this but wondered how aromatheray and headache go together. Indeed, until modern medicine discovered the pills and pharmaceuticals that would treat headaches, scents of oils and plants were about the only things used. Now, we have purified essential oils to use.

The lack of treatment was so profound that stories in literature talk about people trying to sleep off a "sick headache" by putting a wet cloth on their heads that was scented with lavender.
Let's get one thing straight first of all: aromatherapy has not been shown to stop an acute headache like a migraine. But remember, one of the things that accompany migraine is anxiety, so part of the treatment of headaches in general is to practice stress reduction techniques such as biofeedback techniques, and to use aids that may reduce stress and anxiety.

How Does Aromatherapy Work?

One of the official terms used in aromatherapy headache work is aromachology which is the study and use of essential oils to promote well being.

One of the main theories is that certain scents may have an effect on the limbic center of the brain (see diagram). The limbic center of the brain is responsible for emotions that are common to all humans, and certain basic behaviors such as the one that induces the females to nurse and protect their toddlers, or the one which induces these animals to develop ludic behaviors (playful moods). Emotions such as fright, love, hate, passion, and sadness all originate in the limbic system in addition to some personal identity and memory.

Some researchers believe that the connection from the olfactory center in the nose, to the limbic center in the brain is what is responsible for the reaction to scents. Essential oils could work on the central nervous system and perhaps affect autoimmune function. These ideas are just theories at the present time and have yet to be proven.
Cautions With Aromatherapy Headache Treatments
As mentioned above, discuss with your doctor if you have asthma before using any type of aromatherapy.

Other considerations are: do not use if pregnant unless your doctor approves, do not use if you have seizure disorder, it is best not to use on children as they are more sensitive to some odors. Use only organic essential oils and keep oils in a cool dark place and discard if separating. DO NOT ingest essential oils!

How Do I Use Aromatherapy Headache Treatment?

There are several different ways to use aromatherapy for headache treatment, such as a few drops in a warm bath, in a diffuser, and the old fashioned way of a few drops rubbed into the temples. Trying to figure out what aromatherapy is and how it can help your headaches can be quite confusing.

If you have never used aromatherapy or don't know what it is, you might want to read a little more about aromatherapy headache treatments and how this can impact the lifestyle of a migraineur. When a headache hits, no matter if it is a migraine or a severe tension headache, it is important to find a quiet place and try to relax. Of course you should take your medication as soon as possible as having scented oils around will not stop the pain.

Learn some meditation techniques and use them during this time as a type of biofeedback. This will not only relax you, but help reduce the pain. Aromatherapy can be used as an adjunct here to assist with relaxation.

One of the things to remember when exploring the world of aromatherapy is that pure organic essential oils are always the best. In fact, if you can find organic oils, those are even better. Organics tend to be consistent from bottle to bottle.

I have used essential oils in a diffuser when doing yoga and it does create a sense of calm. I prefer lavender but lemon is nice too! These oils can be mixed into massage oil and you can give it to the massage therapist to use just for you. A few drops in a hot bath is excellent when trying to relax during a headache.

Which Aromatherapy Oils Are Best For Headache?

As mentioned above, lavender has been used for stress reduction for hundreds of years and is a pleasant scent. It generally results in calming the mood.

Eucalyptus has been used for headache by rubbing it on the skin, but quite frankly it doesn't work! Like menthol, it may open the nasal passages if used as an inhalant, so if you are congested with a headache this use may help.

Peppermint oil has shown to have some effectiveness in treating a tension headache. The oil is mixed 10% to 90% ethanol, and rubbed lightly across the forehead. The mechanism is unknown but The American Academy of Family Practice has noted in a study that it most probably does work.

Sandalwood is supposed to help with mental fatigue, which can be a part of the recovery after a bad headache. Note that although much is written about sandalwood for headaches, no studies have shown yet that it can effectively treat a headache.
About the Author
Mary K. Betz MS RPA-C is a practicing Physician Assistant in neurology and specializes in headache medicine. Learn more about your headaches and migraines at Headache-adviser.com
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