ATLANTA - Essential oils are extremely popular and marketed by many companies as all natural. But the Georgia Poison Center is putting out a warning about using the oils around children and pets after they say they got more than 1,000 calls about oils last year alone.
Many parents believe in the wellness effects of essential oils. Gabriella Stewart says she has used them on her 7-year-old son since he was a baby.
“He had a cough that would not go away and so it was constantly waking him up from his naps which is very frustrating for any new mom,” she said. After using an essential oil compound called breathe, the cough disappeared within a day or two.
“I was in,” she said. “My favorites are frankincense, copaiba, lavender, I mean the list goes on.”
Millions of people are buying essential oils, diffusing them, putting them on their skin and, in some cases, even eating them.
But essential oils alarmed hundreds of parents last year, who called the Georgia Poison Center, worried about their children's safety.
Of the 1,000 calls the center received, almost 800 dealt with children, the majority from parents of children under 5 years old.
“Surprisingly, this is a very common call that we get here,” Director Dr. Gaylord Lopez said.
Lopez said in many cases, the children had accidentally ingested essential oils and immediately had problems.
“They include everything from simple nausea and vomiting to sometimes even losing consciousness,” he said. “Some of these compounds in just small amounts can be really toxic.”
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But because of the flavor and smell of the oils, they are often enticing to children or pets.
“For example, oil of wintergreen has the spearminty kind of flavor, most people are familiar with it. But if you get the highly concentrated product, as little as half a teaspoon-full can be lethal,” Lopez said.
He said oil of wintergreen is one of the big three he gets calls about. The others are camphor and eucalyptus, all harmful if ingested, and could cause seizures, tremors or worse.
“When it comes to these alternative medicines, there are going to be risks out there. There’s not a lot of studies and parents need to know that what they read on the internet not always is true,” Lopez said.
Lopez recommends getting advice from a health professional before using oils on your children. Stewart agrees education is important.
“I would never put anything on my son that wasn’t pure or safe,” she said.
Stewart, who now sells the oils, says parents should read every label, look for pure oils and get advice on how to best use the oils on their small children. She also stresses oils must be stored safely. That means keeping oil bottles locked, or in a box, out of reach of children, and that goes for keeping them away from your pets, who are attracted to their smell, too.
“Pets get into everything and these, depending on how that particular animal absorbs it, breaks it down in their body, this could be even more problematic in these little critters,” Lopez said.
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