Respiratory Health During Cold & Flu Season

 Cold and Flu season is gaining momentum. Both conditions can be transmitted through airborne germs, which are then breathed into our nose, sinuses, mouth, throat and lungs.  It is necessary for the respiratory tract to remain intact, clean and moist in order to help fend off these germs.  The whole tract is lined with specialized skin called mucous membranes.  The respiratory passages must allow for the free flow of mucous, as this substance can trap germs and debris and help us expel these things before they get established in our bodies.  You may be more familiar with common terms used for mucous in the respiratory system: snot and phlegm. Laugh if you must, but do not dismiss their importance in maintaining our health!The upper respiratory tract is the first contact point with the outside air – the air is then sent down into the lower respiratory tract (bronchi and lungs). If the mucous membrane lining of the upper respiratory tract is not healthy, then our first line of defense against airborne germs is compromized.  If mucous does not flow freely, then it creates an environment for infections to take hold.  This can spell trouble for either the upper or lower respiratory tracts. Conditions such as sinusitis, laryngitis, bronchitis and pneumonia are just a few of the problems we open ourselves up to.  So how can we help keep our respiratory system healthy?

1. Mucous membranes need moisture.

This moisture must occur both inside and outside the body. Increasing our fluid intake helps keep the tissues moist. Water, teas and juices are good choices. Increasing the humidity in the home and office helps keep the air we breathe moist.  As outdoor temperatures go down, so does the air’s ability to hold moisture. With forced air and electrical heaters now in full operation, the air we do breathe is dried out.  So anything we can do to add moisture to our environment is helpful.  Water humidifiers can be a great help, as can water fountains, aquariums and tropical plants.

If you have sinus or throat problems, using steam inhalations (even better with essential oils added!) several times a day can help keep the mucous from getting thick and sticky. A Neti Pot is helpful in clearing out excess mucous and debris from sinuses – it can also deliver moisture directly to the sinuses.  Gargling with aromatic waters, salt water or just lemon and water help keep the mouth and throat clean and moist.

2. The respiratory system likes clean air.

With fewer pollutants in the air, the respiratory system doesn’t need to work so hard at cleaning up what you breathe in. This means it can be more efficient at stopping germs and other nasties from entering your body. Dust, pollens, animal dander, smoke, exhaust and strong fumes from industrial products are just a few of the things that really irritate the respiratory lining and make it difficult to breathe easily.  if the mucous lining becomes overly irritated, it will begin producing so much mucous in response to those things irritating it that the excess mucous now begins to block the actual breathing passages.  Ask anyone with allergies and they’ll tell you what it is like to be in the presence of their allergen!  Not pleasant at all.

Keep your air clean by ensuring the heating ducts in your house are dust/debris free; mop/vacuum/dust your floors and furniture often;  if you have pets that shed, brush them frequently so that the excess fur doesn’t end up on your linens/furniture/floors;  use an ionic air cleaner; diffuse/spray essential oils to kill germs in every room (especially important if someone ill is in the house), every day; open up windows/doors to let fresh air into the house, office, vehicle whenever possible;  stay clear of people who are coughing and spewing their germs!

  1. Mucous membranes need lubrication.

Lubrication helps tissues to stay moist which prevents tissue breakdown and keeps mucous flowing. Lips love cream, gloss or anything soothing to help prevent chapped or cracked sores.  The nostrils appreciate daily cream or nasal oil applications to keep the membranes from cracking.  The throat enjoys sprays and gargles that help ease strain and kill germs – aromatic waters and syrups are great for these approaches.

Some Essential OIls known to help support respiratory health include:  Eucalyptus, Myrtle, Clove, Frankincense, Cedarwood, Camphor, Rosemary, Sweet Basil, Tea Tree, Niaouli, Cajeput, Thyme, Oregano, Pine, Fir and Spruce.

If you attend to the needs of your respiratory system every day, you have a better chance of protecting yourself from the airborne germs that fly your way.  Of course, you’ll need to keep your immune system primed, too – but that is a topic for another day!

An After-Thought:
While you are at it, why not offer your whole body a nourishing, moisturizing cream or oil?
  The skin needs lots of attention during our dry winter. It, too, offers protection from infection if it is healthy and intact. Like its relative, the mucous membranes, it yearns for moisture (plant hydrosol misters, anyone?), protection from the elements and non-irritating lubricating substances (natural, non-chemical products) used on it.

Article written by Pat Antoniak Registered Nurse- – Registered Aromatherapist and owner of the Natural Comfort Wellness Centre in Tsawwassen, BC.

 Did you know ……

  • Eucalyptus essential oil can break down excess mucous and help expel it from the respiratory system
  • Clove, Tea-Tree and Eucalyptus are members of the same botanical family:  Myrtaceae
  • Oregano, Thyme and Clove essential oils are strong antibacterial /antimicrobial oils due to their high phenol content – a little goes a long way!



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