Surprising but true: aromatherapy can decrease nausea, according to a study published last year in the Annals of Emergency Medicine. A group of researchers in San Antonio found that adults who came to the emergency department for nausea or vomiting had as much relief from sniffing an alcohol pad as they did from a dose of one of the best anti-nausea medications, ondansetron (Zofran). And the addition of “alcohol aromatherapy” to the medication led to an even better response.
The successful sniffing technique: The researchers “specifically advised subjects to take deep nasal inhalations as frequently as required to achieve nausea relief, with the pad held approximately 1 to 2 cm from the nares.” (“Nares” is the fancy medical term for “nostrils.”) Patients could take new alcohol pads after 10, 20, 30, and 60 minutes.
After 30 minutes, the patients who had sniffed the alcohol wipes had the same amount of improvement as the patients who got anti-nausea medication: from a severity of 5 on a 10-point scale to a severity of about 3. The patients who received BOTH treatments had a remarkable improvement, from a severity of 5 to less than 1. Plus, none of the 40 patients who received both treatments actually threw up.
The researchers were sure to point out that they found these results in generally healthy adults, who mostly had GI infections (gastroenteritis) or food poisoning, so we can’t assume that children, or adults with underlying health problems, would benefit the same way. But if you or your child is feeling nauseated, it might help to open up an alcohol pad and take some deep breaths.
April MD, Oliver JJ, Davis WT et al. Aromatherapy versus oral ondansetron for antiemetic therapy among adult emergency department patients: a randomized controlled trial. Ann Emerg Med 2018; 72: 184-193.
Rebecca Cherry, MD, is an expert in pediatric digestive disorders and nutrition at Pediatric Specialty Partners in San Diego. To schedule a consultation, contact the office through the website or by phone at 858-625-0809.