News & Events

Aromatherapy makes 'scents' at Alliance Community Hospital

March 17, 2013

By Shannon Harsh, The Review, Published March 17, 2013

If you notice the scent of lavender or peppermint while visiting a patient at Alliance Community Hospital (ACH), it may be part of the hospital's integrative therapy program.

When ACH became a Planetree hospital in 2002, one of the services added was clinical aromatherapy, the use of pure essential oils from living plants to improve health or make the patient feel better.

Despite its existence at the hospital for more than a decade, Connie Altomare, diabetes educator and consumer health librarian, said most people still don't realize it is offered because it is something so "different" from typical medical therapies.

"We're trying to revitalize it and get the word out there that it is available so that more people know about it and understand about it," Altomare said.

Altomare, who has been studying aromatherapy for two years and hopes to soon become a certified clinical aromatherapist, said the therapy doesn't claim to cure any particular ailments, but the oils are good for your health and can provide the following benefits:

Boost your immune system

Improve your nutrition

Support your body's natural defenses

Elevate your mood

Increase oxygenating effects

Boost your stamina and energy

Help you relax

Manage stress and frustration

Improve mental clarity

One example Altomare gave is peppermint oil, which she said is good for headaches and upset stomach, and thus would be good for patients undergoing cancer treatments or feeling nauseous after surgery. "We can put a drop of the oil on a cotton ball and just have them inhale that a few times throughout the day, and that may help alleviate some of that nausea," she said. "In that case, they wouldn't have to take as much of the medication that the doctor has prescribed because the peppermint is helping them."

Altomare stressed that aromatherapy should be a complementary therapy and should not be used in place of a doctor's advice or taking prescribed drugs.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), aromatherapy is "promoted as a natural way to help patients cope with stress, chronic pain, nausea and depression and to produce a feeling of well-being." While proponents claim aromatherapy can help with bacterial infections, colds, flu, sore throats and a number of other issues, ACS said scientific evidence does not support these specific claims. However, ACS said some clinical studies do agree that aromatherapy may be a helpful complementary therapy.

At ACH, essential oils are often used as part of the Rest Program in the evening, when the lights are dimmed and the patient floors are quieted in order to help patients get the rest they need. Altomare said at this time, patients are offered a lavender massage or lavender oil on a cotton ball to help them relax.

In addition, the Progressive Care Unit nurses station has become the home for the aromatherapy nebulizer machine, which occasionally gives off the fragrances of different oils. Altomare said the nurses have six of the most common oils to choose from. "(The scent) is in the hallway, so not only do the nurses get it, but the visitors and any other staff members," she added.

Altomare said the response from patients and staff has been positive. "I think (aromatherapy) just gives the patients another option, another choice in their care that they can try and see if it helps them," Altomare said. "And anything that helps the patient get better or feel better, I think it's worth a try."

Essential oils are typically massaged into the skin or inhaled. Altomare said some people also rub the oils on their feet at certain spots that correspond with your organs, using a technique called vita flex. If massaging oils into your skin, she said the oils can be mixed with a carrier oil, such as grape seed oil, sweet almond oil or olive oil, to avoid direct contact and prevent a sensitivity issue.

She said those interested in aromatherapy should make sure they are using oils of the therapeutic variety, which are the best quality. She said some stores sell other versions that may not be as beneficial.

"I know for the oils some people will say more is better, but if you're using the high grade therapeutic oils, for the most part it is only one or two drops that you will need at a time," she added.

Altomare noted it is also important to understand the oils and how to use them safely if working with aromatherapy on your own.

Aromatherapy is only one of the hospital's integrative therapies. Others include soft touch, Reiki, massage, intentional thought, prayer shawl and pet therapy.

"In addition to improving the patient experience at ACH, the use of integrative therapies enhances patient choice and allows mind, body and spirit healing to be maximized," Michele Quinn, coordinator of Volunteer Services, said. "Additionally, it complements our aim at providing patient-centered care for all who enter the doors of ACH."

For more information about integrative therapies, contact Quinn at 330-596-7821.

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