Oil of ginger or a blend of different scents were both effective in treating postoperative nausea. (Image source: Thinkstock)

Oil of ginger or a blend of different scents were both effective in treating postoperative nausea. (Image source: Thinkstock)

A lot has been written about postoperative nausea and vomiting (PONV).   Treatment for PONV usually is accomplished with a drug that can be injected intravenously, administered orally, or, when all else fails, given rectally.  Somehow the nose doesn’t seem like an appropriate orifice for treatment of PONV.  However, the nose is the only option for treatment with aromatherapy.  Isopropyl alcohol, for example, is more effective than placebo in treating PONV, though standard antiemetic drugs are more effective.

In the study “Aromatherapy as Treatment for Postoperative Nausea: A Randomized Trial,” Dr. Ronald Hunt, Department of Anesthesia, Carolinas Medical Center University, Charlotte, NC and colleagues compared patients who inhaled either oil of ginger; an essential oil blend of ginger, spearmint, peppermint, and cardamom; 70% isopropyl alcohol, or saline placebo.  The solution was placed on a gauze pad, and inhaled by the recipient.

Patients were included in the study if, after an ambulatory surgery procedure, they scored their nausea at least 1 on a scale of 0-3. They were then randomly asked to inhale one of the scents through the nose and exhale through the mouth 3 times. Nausea was reassessed 5 minutes after study volunteers had inhaled the scents.  Over 1,000 patients were screened and about 300 nauseous patients were included in the study. Patients who inhaled oil of ginger or a blend of ginger, spearmint, peppermint, and cardamom had a significant reduction of their nausea. Almost 200 patients requested antiemetic medication after aromatherapy and about 60% came from the placebo or isopropyl alcohol groups.

It’s not clear how long treatment was effective and if repeated use over time is more effective than one-time use. Antiemetic therapy and type of anesthesia were not controlled. Why isopropyl alcohol was not as effective in this study as opposed to its described effectiveness in other studies is not clear, though the number of studies and the overall number of patients studied are both small. In addition, the rating scale the authors used was not the same as that used in many other studies. Nonetheless, aromatherapy is inexpensive and its use deserves more study.