Essential oil exposure doubled over last 4 years

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Officials with the Tennessee Poison Control Center are warning that they are seeing an increasing number of toxic exposures, mostly involving children, to essential oils used in aromatic and homeopathic natural remedies.

TPC, which is housed at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, says the number of essential oil exposures doubled between 2011 and 2015, and 80 percent of those cases involved children.

TPC officials say the primary route of poisoning is by ingestion, but also occurs with excessive or inappropriate application to the skin. Children are at risk because their skin easily absorbs oils.

The oils, which have boomed in popularity can be applied to the skin, ingested, and even diffused into the air by a vaporizer.

The primary route of poisoning is by ingestion, but it may also occur by excessive or inappropriate application to the skin.

Children are at risk for poisoning because they may try to ingest essential oils from the container.

“Tea tree oil is commonly cited, and most of those cases are accidental ingestions by children.” said Justin Loden, PharmD, certified specialist in Poison Information (CSPI) at TPC.

Most have a pleasant smell but bitter taste, so children easily choke on them and aspirate the oil to their lungs, Loden said.

Children are also at risk because their thin skin readily absorbs essential oils, and the protective barrier that covers their brain is easily penetrated.

Several essential oils such as camphor, clove, lavender, eucalyptus, thyme, tea tree, and wintergreen oils are highly toxic.

All of the oils produce oral and throat irritation, nausea, and vomiting when ingested.

Most essential oils either produce central nervous system (CNS) stimulation, which results in agitation, hallucinations, delirium, and seizures or CNS depression, which results in lethargy and coma.

Other toxic effects include painless chemical burns, hypotension, acute respiratory distress syndrome, acute liver failure, severe metabolic acidosis, and cerebral edema depending on which essential oil is in question.

Please call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 right away if someone swallows an essential oil or a product containing essential oils.

Tennessee Poison Center Tips for using essential oils

  • Safely using and storing essential oils is extremely important
  • Use essential oil products ONLY for their intended purpose.
  • Use only the amount stated on the label/guide.
  • Do not swallow an essential oil unless the label says to do so.
  • Do not use a product on the skin unless the label says to do so.
  • Do not leave the product out (i.e. as a pesticide) unless the label says to do so.
  • If you have bottles of essential oils at home, keep them locked up, out of sight and reach of children and pet at all times. Children act fast, so do poisons.

*The Associated Press contributed to this report

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