Essential Oils: Aromatherapy Use Growing in Hospitals

The Record,

The fragrance of lavender and sweet almond was as soothing as the dreamy voice of Enya coming from the CD player. By the patient’s bedside a dialysis machine beeped quietly.

The scents arose subtly from oils that Mary Mazzer, a registered nurse and aromatherapist, was rubbing gently on her patient’s knuckles, palms and fingers. Next, she poured more oil from a small cup into her latex-gloved hand and applied it to her patient’s shins, calves and toes, and to the balls of her feet.

“She has a lot of anxiety related to her illness,” said Mazzer, in the patient’s room at Valley Hospital in Ridgewood. “We’ve been working together a couple months. She falls asleep with the touch therapy.”

Lavender allows me to relax,” said the patient, Shelly Lomberg of Fair Lawn. She was hooked to the dialysis machine with wires, tubes and monitors.

“A lot of it is the touch,” Lomberg said. “The aroma definitely takes me somewhere else.” Her head lolled, and she drifted off.

At-home practice

When you try aromatherapy essential oils at home, make sure you purchase 100 percent therapeutic-grade essential oils – not oils mixed with synthetics.

How to use:

Essential Oils can be inhaled, or oils can be applied directly to the skin.

Scents are dispersed in the air by oil drops on a gauze pad or handkerchief, or from an electric fan diffuser, or a diffuser.

Essential Oils are applied to the surface of the skin by gentle touch therapy or in bath water dispersed by one ounce of milk or vodka. A skin allergy test may be required before application.

Essential oils from fruit, flowers, plants and trees relieve nausea, anxiety, pain and other symptoms by acting on the limbic system of the brain, associated with feelings and emotions.

Oils should be stored away from heat and light.

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils — extracted from flowers, fruits, plants and trees — to relieve anxiety, nausea, insomnia, pain and other symptoms. Scents from the oils are inhaled and stimulate the olfactory nerves in the nose. Or oils are applied to the skin, where they are absorbed and enter the bloodstream. Either way, they act on the limbic system of the brain, including the hippocampus and the amygdala, associated with feelings and emotions.

The treatment is used in many hospices and nursing homes and is beginning to catch on in hospitals. It can also be practiced at home.

Aromatherapy, which goes back to ancient Egypt, should not be confused with synthetically scented soaps and candles sold in New Age boutiques, practitioners maintain.

“We see aromatherapy everywhere,” Mazzer said. “It’s in dish detergents. But we’re not talking about commercial fragrance use. (Note: there can be up to 1,000 different synthetics and/or chemicals allowed in the formulation of “fragrances.”)

“We’re not just going to make it smell nice, which is fine. We’re talking about essential oil used in a specific way to obtain a specific, measurable clinical outcome,” she said.

Valley added aromatherapy two years ago to its holistic services program and now has seven nurses certified to administer it, Mazzer said. But it took a while for some of the doctors at the hospital to get used to the idea, she said.

“Oh, you’re that voodoo nurse,” one physician said to her early in the program.

“Yes, you’ll have to be careful,” Mazzer replied with a laugh. I’ll put a spell on you.”

Acceptance grows

But as the idea caught on, doctors, nurses, social workers and others began asking Mazzer to use aromatherapy on their patients, she said. Although she does not need a physician’s order, Mazzer will consult with a patient’s doctor, who can overrule using aromatherapy.

Mazzer limits her oils to a select few, such as lavender for anxiety and healing insect bites, and ginger for nausea. Black pepper is a blood-vessel dilator, which can be helpful in starting an intravenous line, she said. Peppermint is good for headache, rosemary for bursitis, neroli oil from orange blossoms is a fragrant relaxant, and eucalyptus is good for colds.

She puts a couple of drops on a gauze pad and wafts the scent toward the patient. She can also use an inhaler. Oils applied topically to the skin are often diluted with sweet almond extract to avoid irritation. Touch therapy is a light caress, not a deep muscle massage.

Mazzer is versed in 33 essential oils and hopes to expand the menu at Valley. “I’m not here to replace anyone” in traditional medical care, she said.

Holistic therapies should not be considered alternative or even complementary medicine. “We look at it as integrative” with standard care, she said. Treatment involves a patient’s mind, body and spirit.

Aromatherapy is used in hospices and nursing homes throughout New Jersey, said Susan Coppola of Care Alternatives, a Cranford-based home-care provider in several states. The treatment helps terminally ill patients and families, said Coppola, a registered nurse and aromatherapist who lives in Wyckoff.

“We’re looking at comfort in whatever form it comes,” she said. “The wonderful thing about aromatherapy is its effectiveness with multiple issues. It’s used in different areas of the body for different purposes.”

The power of touch

Coppola puts a blend of grape seed, lemon, frankincense and juniper oil on different parts of the body. “The scent relaxes, and it’s good for the skin,” she said. “Usually these patients have very dehydrated, old skin.”

The agency she works for requires a doctor’s order and a skin test for allergic reaction, Coppola said.

“It’s a wonderful thing to teach families to do, especially if there’s been an estrangement,” she said. “Touching each other brings closure. Oil has very positive multiple effects.”

The scent of essential oils can reduce the stress of patients headed for surgery, said Charisse Gigli, an operating-room nurse at Barnert Hospital in Paterson. She recommends a blend of rose, bergamot (Turkish orange rind), sandalwood and frankincense.

“I carry an inhaler for myself,” said Gigli, who is New Jersey director of the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy. “As a patient myself, it really relaxed me before surgery.”

Everyday consumers can purchase essential oils commercially, but they should be cautious about quality, she said.

“The thing to worry about is, a lot of so-called fragrance oils are fake or might be a mixture of extract and a synthetic,” Gigli said. “You have to be sure it’s 100 percent essential oil.”

~ Read more about essential oil quality

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