Can I use essential oils to treat a Strep throat infection?

Sore throat is quite literally a pain to deal with. Scratchy pain, difficulty swallowing, fever, then having to go to the doctor for a Strep test, it’s no wonder that people are often looking for at-home remedies. 


The use of essential oils has grown considerably over the past decade. Their benefits have been touted to do everything from cleaning your kitchen counter to calming your little one before bed. Some have also claimed their antibacterial properties make them a safe treatment option for Strep throat. But are they actually effective? 


What is Strep throat? 

Streptococcus pyogenes is the bacteria that causes Strep throat. It’s the most common bacterial cause of sore throat globally, affecting mainly children and adolescents between 5 and 19 years old. Strep throat can be treated with simple antibiotics like amoxicillin. Even without treatment, the severity of symptoms start to decline in most cases between three and four days after onset. However, in some cases, the infection doesn’t go away on its own and can lead to serious complications that affect the kidneys, heart, and joints. 


In addition to the risk to your health, Strep throat is associated with increased child care costs, loss of wages, and more healthcare expenditure due to missed work, school, daycare, and trips to the doctor’s office. 


Antibiotics vs. “natural” remedies for Strep Throat

Penicillin is considered to be the first-choice antibiotic to treat Strep throat. However, the efficacy of penicillin faces a number of challenges including the rise in Streptococcus pyogenes penicillin-resistant bacteria, medication allergies, and lack of compliance from patients not finishing their full course of medication.


With all that, and coupled with the desire to live more “green” and move from chemical options to more natural choices, there has been an increasing interest in more traditional remedies against Strep throat. For thousands of years, plants and herbs have been used to treat illnesses all over the world. 


Strep throat and essential oils

Essential oils from these plants and herbs have also been used to fight infection and illness for centuries. Studies have shown that some essential oils have antimicrobial activity that is effective against the Streptococcus species, including Streptococcus pyogenes. 


In one study, researchers tested the laboratory efficacy of essential oils extracted from four different plants (ginger, cloves, sage, and oregano) against samples of Streptococcus pyogenes. Of the four tested plants, oregano and sage showed the most potency in killing strep throat bacteria. However the study found that these oils need to be administered in large concentrations to function efficiently.


Penicillin was found to be more effective than these essential oils against Strep throat. The concentration of penicillin required to kill Strep throat bacteria is 16 times less than that of essential oils. Essential oils have large and complex molecules, which make it difficult for them to penetrate the thick wall of the bacteria and initiate their effect. 


The future of essential oils as medicine

Despite this low efficacy compared to traditional antibiotics, the oils showed a rapid time-to-kill Streptococcus pyogenes, starting at a little over 45 minutes for the oregano essential oil. The anti-streptococcal activity of these is probably due to the fact that they are rich in phytochemicals. 


In conclusion, the study found that the oregano and sage essential oils might offer some protection against strep throat infections. However their benefit is concentration dependent, meaning that larger concentrations of these essential oils are needed for them to be effective. 


In the future, these plants and others might be a good source for natural antimicrobial agents that can be used as an alternative to antibiotics. However, more research is needed, especially in areas of the appropriate dosage of these herbs, the best methods of administration, adequate duration for their use, and studies against the currently available antibiotics. Additionally, the benefits of these plants for relieving other symptoms of strep throat and prevention of its complications are possible areas for future research.


In the meantime, sticking with the tried-and-true medications like penicillin will be the best way to fight the Strep bug and start feeling better fast.