Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca Oil) is a popular essential oil marketed and sold as a fungicidal and antiseptic. It is available as 100% “pure oil” or in a diluted spray, cream, soap or similar preparation. Tea Tree Oil has gained popularity among its proponents who claim it can treat acne, warts, gingivitis, nail fungus, ear aches, thrush, eye and vaginal infections and asthma, to name a few.
Is there supporting medical evidence?
Very little traditional medical research has been published regarding the use of Tea Tree Oil. However, a few small studies do exist. These studies suggest that Tea Tree Oil, when used topically, may be beneficial as a skin antiseptic and with scabies, lice, acne and some types of fungus. Literature agrees that Tea Tree Oil should never be ingested, nebulized or used in eyes or on mucous membranes. Tea Tree Oil can be harmful or fatal if swallowed or aspirated.
Aspiration of the Oil can cause acute or delayed respiratory distress and/or lethargy, especially in children. Eye exposure can result in corneal injury. Skin irritation, rash or blisters can follow dermal application. People allergic or sensitive to eucalyptus, guava, clove or pine should avoid Tea Tree Oil.
A recent case at the Tennessee Poison Center involved a young child (under 2 years of age) who had a significant dermal exposure and ingested no more than a teaspoon of Tea Tree Oil. At 30 minutes post ingestion, the parent reported no symptoms. Less than 90 minutes later, the child received emergent EMS transport which required mechanical ventilation en-route to the Emergency Department. She was intubated upon arrival to the hospital. Chest X-Ray showed no evidence of aspiration. The child was admitted to the intensive care unit and received symptomatic and supportive care. Within a few hours, she had improved and was extubated. She was discharged home the following day after a complete recovery.
Case reports of ingestions involving less than 10ml of 100% Tea Tree Oil have described: vomiting, ataxia, confusion, CNS depression and coma. Each case reviewed recovered fully with symptomatic and supportive care.
As always, keep out of reach of children. If poisoning is suspected, call the Poison Center immediately at 1-800-222-1222.
This question prepared by: Donna L. Taylor, RN, CSPI (Certified Specialist in Poison Information)
*One of our readers who is very sensitive to poison ivy sent a comment regarding our recent Question of the Week. She said that “a product called Tecnu significantly decreased my poison ivy problems. It seems to be a detergent, and it claims to neutralize the oils from these plants.” As always, we appreciate tips and comments. Ds
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Donna Seger, MD
Tennessee Poison Center
Poison Help Hotline: 1-800-222-1222