DALLAS — Essential oils, popular home remedies for everything from digestive ailments to insomnia, are increasingly being accidentally ingested by small children, sending them to emergency care.
A study of calls to the Texas Poison Control Center Network found more than 1,200 calls concerning exposure to essential oils during a recent 10-year period, with the incidence continuing to rise, according to Dr. Kurt Kleinschmidt, professor of emergency medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center and Parkland Health and Hospital Systems.
The oils, which are a highly concentrated “essence” of the flowers, herbs, and trees they are extracted from, have pleasant aromas that can be alluring to children.
“The oils often smell very nice — they may even smell like food — which can lead kids to drink them. But then the taste is bitter so they often choke and aspirate them into their lungs,” Dr. Kleinschmidt says.
Taking these liquids into the lungs can lead to pneumonia.
There are scores of essential oils, and while some may be relatively harmless when swallowed, many can have serious consequences, including agitation, hallucinations, liver damage, and seizures. Even skin exposure can, in some cases, be harmful to children, who have thinner skin than adults and may absorb them more easily into the blood stream.
To be safe, Dr. Kleinschmidt says, treat essential oils as you would medicine. Refrain from using essential oils on children and, most important, store them safely in a place where young children cannot get to them.
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