by Katharine Koeppen, RA
While it seems crazy, the answer is an emphatic yes. Diffusers are a great way to disperse essential oils into your environment, but they weren't ever meant to run for hours on end. If you don't limit your aromatherapy diffusion to sensible intervals, it's possible to get a little too much exposure, resulting in oversedation or overstimulation. This can result in a variety of side effects, depending on the essential oils used:
- Mental confusion or brain fog
- Impaired concentration
- Dizziness or fainting
- Hypervigilance or jittery behavior
- Sudden, uncontrollable fits of coughing or sneezing
- Seizures (most likely to occur in babies and small children)
How much diffusion is enough? Generally 15-30 minutes is plenty for most applications. After 40 minutes of diffusion, odor blindness has set in, and essential oils have already accomplished their maximum effect on the body.
Overexposure can actually reverse the desired effect of essential oil diffusion. For example, when properly diffused, sweet myrtle (Myrtus communis) is a lovely, stimulating oil for mental focus and effectively addresses pollen allergies and respiratory issues. Inhaled in excess, myrtle will become stupefying.
When diffusing around special populations such as pets, children, frail elderly or the seriously ill, be sure to monitor them for signs of overexposure. With these groups, a little aromatherapy goes a long way and shorter diffusion times are often required.
Don't sit right next to the diffuser unless you're doing a very short, therapeutic "shock" treatment (5-10 minutes) such as an inhalation for blocked nasal passages. On the rare occasions when I've seen an adverse reaction in one of my classes or presentations, it's inevitably occurred to the person who insists on sitting only a foot or two away from a device that is blowing essential oil mist directly into their face.
I prefer to use diffusers that automatically run on timed on/off cycles to avoid overexposure. If your diffuser doesn't have this feature, you can easily purchase a lamp or appliance timer to set the diffuser to desired run times.
Just remember, everything in moderation. Follow the above guidelines and you'll experience years of enjoyment from your aromatherapy diffuser.