Designing Doctor-Recommended Aromatherapy Systems for Clinical Use
Article Revised 08/25/23
Nurses have been using aromatherapy to comfort patients, often at their own expense, for decades — a mission we applaud. The problem is that without a standardized system of administration or other protocols in place, there are still some risks, a burden (and, frankly, an expense) that nurses shouldn’t have to bear. This is the reason we researched, developed, and then manufactured “tools” to assist first-line care providers who wished to find better ways to safely and consistently use aromatherapy in clinical settings.
Personal Aromatherapy Inhalers
Aeroscena®’s first product, personal aromatherapy inhalers, was designed for sanitary, single-patient use, in order to prevent the spread of bacteria or viruses in sensitive clinical settings with vulnerable patient populations. Although easy to use for both caregivers and patients, their outward simplicity belies a much more complicated design.
Ascents® inhalers consist of 100% natural, full-strength essential oil formulas, packaged for use as personal inhalers. Based upon the principles of fluid dynamics, each inhaler utilizes a special outer packaging to protect the essential oils from degradation, and a surgical foam inside to hold the oils so that, when squeezed, the mechanics of the inner pouch permit the release of precisely metered doses of therapeutic scent. And the materials provide for extremely long shelf-life.
These individual inhalers mean there are no messy liquids that may spill, no potential for oil “burns” (essential oils, especially at undiluted strengths, can, indeed, burn the skin), ease of patient self-administration as needed for hundreds of uses per unit with no risk of overdose, and of course, no potential for the spread of dangerous disease via source oil contamination. This is why some of the most prominent hospital systems around the country use Ascents® inhalers as part of their care protocol in birthing units, cancer centers, and post-surgical suites.
In addition, these inhalers are ideal for use in research pilots and clinical trials, as they make it easy to randomize and double-blind self-medicating patients.
After the launch of our aromatherapy inhalers, we began to research ways in which we might be able to create a safer system for hospitals to use in order to diffuse essential oils throughout a larger area. Traditionally, aromatherapy diffusers are heated water-based, a complete non-option in clinical settings. Water (especially heated water) breeds mold, mildew, bacteria, and viruses. Even when sterile water is used to start, there is almost no way of keeping the water sterile over time, nor is there enough staff available to keep the diffusers clean.
Then there are dry heat-based systems. Heat presents multiple potential problems, too. One is, of course, that a unit could overheat and start a fire. Heat can also damage the delicate active organic compounds found in the essential oils, decreasing their therapeutic value. Both heat and water-based aromatherapy systems require liquid oils to be measured out, refilled, and therefore, potentially knocked over and spilled or even broken on the floor. Yet more hazards that are unacceptable in a clinical environment.
That left only a fan-based, cold diffusion system, plus, the challenge of getting around the use of liquid oils still remained. This is how the Ascents® Gel System eventually came to be. We developed (and recently were awarded a patent for) a proprietary system that allowed us to encapsulate essential oils via a unique polymerization process, resulting in the first-ever solid essential oil gels that perform like a liquid, with none of the drawbacks of bottled oils.
Better yet, the polymer used to “gel” the essential oils into a solid form is made from vegetables; completely clean, safe, and natural, producing no smoke or ozone. The gels are packaged in recyclable cartridges for use with our Ascents® diffuser system and are able to dispense sanitary, no-mess, no-spill, aromatherapeutic scent in areas of up to 600 sq ft. The “carrier oil” which precisely controls the rate of migration to the surface of the gel and its subsequent introduction into the air is also purely natural and even safe to eat (although not recommended!), as we use only food-grade products.
For patients with reduced dexterity, or for situations where a hands-free symptom management solution would be helpful, we created the Ascents Wearable Aromatherapy Patch. These patches have an EKG-sticker-like adhesive that is safe to use on skin or hospital gowns and is MRI-safe.
Giving Medical Professionals the Tools They Need
Aeroscena®’s clinical aromatherapy formulas were designed with the input of experts in scent science, in concert with some of the world’s leading medical institutions. However, without the right delivery systems in place, the formulas would not be nearly as effective because they would not be easy enough — or even safe and sanitary enough — to use in hospital environments. We are thrilled with the response we’ve had to our clinical aromatherapy diffusion systems, and we plan on continuing our research in order to improve upon these advances going forward.