Steam inhalations have been seen to be tremendously helpful to many people with a wide variety of problems that are affecting their breathing in one way or another. In this article I describe two ways to get medicated steam into the respiratory system; the simple method & the comprehensive method.

The simple method is particularly useful when dealing with hay fever or fighting a cold-virus and when you need to do the treatment frequently and often to get a fast result! The comprehensive method is obviously more time-consuming but can be especially helpful for those whose respiratory congestion has become chronic and gone deep into their systems.

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Simple Method

Boil the kettle then pour about 50-60mls of freshly boiled water into any kind of cup (i.e. fill it to about a third) then sprinkle in around 5-6 drops of Olbas oil* (or Eucalyptus oil if you cannot get Olbas).

As the oils will evaporate quickly in this very hot water you need to bring the cup up reasonably close to your nose right away to inhale the steam but be careful not to get too close and risk getting burnt!

Inhale a deep slow breath of the medicated steam into your nose as well as you can and then release the air through your nose. If you can get at least three deep breaths in and out then you will have received a 'dose' of the cleansing and antiseptic oils and can stop there or continue on if you are finding relief from the process itself. It is definitely ok to add a few more drops if you want to re-charge the steam.

If your nose is very blocked then you may have to use your mouth to breathe as well but try to get the steam through your nasal passageways as much as possible. This treatment can safely be repeated as frequently as required - just follow your nose for how often!

Olbas: a Swiss herbal formula that is widely available around the world


Comprehensive Method

~ Stainless steel, glass or ceramic bowl (not plastic)
~ 3 cups boiled water, up to 1 cup of cold water
~ 10-12 drops of Olbas oil
~ Bath towel

1) Fill the bowl with the freshly boiled hot water. Then add up to a cup of cold water (you can vary this and use more or less cold water depending on your tolerance to the intensity of the steam). Then add the Olbas drops, shut your eyes tight, position your head over the bowl and drape the towel over your head and bowl.
2) Deeply breathe in and out until the Olbas has evaporated and your lungs, bronchial tubes, nose, sinuses etc. have been given a good steam- clean. Repeat as often as needed.

Comprehensive Method + Chamomile

For some people, especially children, or those who have a particularly inflamed and sore respiratory tract, the addition of a handful of Chamomile flowers along with the Olbas oil into the bowl of hot water will give a great deal of extra soothing support. Note that if you do wish to use this old, tried and true remedy that it will benefit you to keep the kettle nearby and to add a little hot water after a short while because the extra hot water serves to burst open some more chamomile essential oil droplets that will rise up in the fresh steam for you to keep breathing to keep calming and cleansing your air-passages.


Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why do I feel sometimes feel a little pain when I do this?

A: It is normal to feel a little pain in the places that you have congestion and infection. This should not be to the level of a 'bad pain' that you are forcing yourself to endure. Good pain in a steam inhalation is like doing a strong stretch; it hurts in a way that you know is doing you good. You have to do it so it gets right in there but not so strongly it damages the delicate linings of your sinuses, nose, chest etc. Start with just allowing a very moderate level of discomfort and make sure that you feel good from the treatment and that it is not making you feel sorer afterwards. You can build up the intensity as you go, always listen to how your body responds and literally back off if it feels too strong.

Q: When should I breathe through my nose and when should I breathe through my mouth?

A: Breathe in and out through your nose as much as you can without crossing into the point of strong discomfort. If, especially at first, you are unable to comfortably breathe in and out your nose there is an effective middle-ground technique of taking small short 'sips' of air into your nose and then continuing to breathe with your mouth. This technique still gets the medicated steam to where it needs to go. When things do get too intense (which they sometimes will) then you should immediately simply switch to breathing through your mouth until the intense sensation has passed and you can get the steam moving up through your sinuses again. Mouth breathing will still clean and disinfect your bronchial tubes and your lungs but it won't get up into your sinus cavities where most chronic respiratory infection is housed.

Q: How close should I keep my head to the bowl or the cup?

A: Again you can largely use your own sense of comfort to determine this. Steam rises so you don't have to get too close for this to work. Likewise you can let more air in to dilute the steam by holding the towel back if it gets too strong. Don't forget to keep your eyes shut tight through the whole process.

Eucalyptus leaves (one of the ingredients in Olbas oil)


Q: Should I add more Olbas when the first drops have evaporated?

A: If you have a bad or chronic sinus or chest infection then you should probably do at least two rounds of Olbas oil each time you do a steam. The oil evaporates quite quickly so when you can't obviously smell it you can add another 6 drops or so, the water should still be hot enough to disperse it up.

Q: How often should I do the steam and how long should I keep the treatments going for?

A: For a person who has an acute infection, e.g. a cold, bronchitis or even pneumonia, I recommend they repeat the steam inhalation as frequently as they like. So long as they don't damage the delicate linings of the respiratory system by making it too hot or intense this is not a treatment that you can overdo.

For the majority of people who have chronic sinus congestion, nasal polyps, allergies etc. it will be best to do this treatment at least once a day and then, so long as it is clearly helping, just keep it going for as long as it takes to get better.

Q: Are there any side effects from this treatment?

A: As you start effectively cleansing out bacterial, viral and fungal infection you will start establishing a new 'flora and fauna' in your sinuses and upper-respiratory mucosa. This cleaning and clearing can cause you to have a rebound increase in mucus but it should be a lot runnier than usual and be a lot easier to blow out.

If your sinuses stop feeling wet and congested but instead start to feel dry and inflamed then take this as a good sign that you have cleared the passageways and it is now time to allow a treatment break for some normal and healthy mucus to re-establish itself.

Juniper berry (another of the ingredients in Olbas)

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd