Natural remedies are increasingly popular for helping with a variety of maladies, from allergies to depression. But according to a Tennessee poison center, kids are more at risk than ever for accidental poisoning from essential oils used in these treatments, either by ingestion or improper dosing.
Health Day reports between 2011 and 2015, toxic exposure to oils derived from plants and used in aromatic and homeopathic products, such as tea tree oil, increased two-fold.
But if these oils are natural, how can they be poisonous?
Explains Dr. Justin Loden, a certified specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center's Tennessee Poison Center, "The rule of thumb in toxicology is 'the dose makes the poison,' so all essential oils are potentially harmful." He adds, "In children, poisoning typically occurs when they try to swallow the oil, but choke so that a little of it goes into the lungs, which causes pneumonia; it only takes less than half a teaspoonful to do that."
That's not a lot! And parents should note the hazard applies to every kind of essential oil, but especially when it comes to camphor, clove, lavender, eucalyptus, thyme, tea tree, and wintergreen oils. Making sure not to overuse an application is key in preventing a poisoning accident.
What makes the oils, which are also sometimes diffused into the air, especially dangerous for kids is that many smell good and may seem appealing to eat. That is why proper storage in a locked cabinet is key. Loden further notes kids' skin is thinner and may absorb oil applied to them more quickly than adults.
An overdose of an essential oil can cause some pretty serious symptoms, and again, remember it doesn't take a lot. Signs of overuse include agitation, hallucinations, seizures, chemical burns, breathing problems, liver failure, and brain swelling.
Contact the Poison Control hotline right away at 1-800-222-1222 if you suspect your child needs help. And never assume, as I may have, that just because something says it's natural, it's totally safe. It's not.
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.