Biofeedback and Medical Aromatherapy

In this Article

Biofeedback and medical aromatherapy [uh-ROH-muh-THER-uh-pee] can be used to help your child with many of the same problems, including stress, headaches, and sleep. They are alternatives to conventional medicine, but can be used alongside conventional medicine. Biofeedback is guided by a therapist who helps your child learn how to change their thinking, feelings, or actions by showing your child what their body is doing. Aromatherapy uses essential oils that are breathed in or placed on your child’s skin.

What are biofeedback and medical aromatherapy?

Biofeedback techniques and medical aromatherapy [uh-roh-muh-THER-uh-pee] are examples of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). These approaches can be used in addition to or instead of conventional medical treatment.

When CAM and conventional medicine are used together, it is called integrative medicine. Sometimes it can be called holistic medicine, which focuses on the whole person and not just the body.

Biofeedback and medical aromatherapy are two kinds of CAM that can help your child with problems like chronic pain, stress, headaches, insomnia, and other issues.

What is biofeedback?

With biofeedback, a device that measures how your child’s body is working helps your child learn to control a function in their body. Often, it is used to treat pain. For example, if your child has headaches often, a biofeedback device might show that they are tensing muscles in their neck.

When your child sees what is causing the problem, they are better able to change what they are doing, thinking, or feeling. The sessions are led by a biofeedback therapist. In the example of a child with headaches, the therapist might show your child how to relax their neck muscles to prevent or lessen future headaches.

Biofeedback sessions work like physical therapy in that your child will need to participate in each session and practice what they learned between sessions.

What is medical aromatherapy?

Medical aromatherapy is the use of essential oils to improve health and well-being. Essential oils are the chemicals that give flowers, trees, and herbs their smell. They come straight from the plant with no added parts. Essential oils have been used for healing for thousands of years and in many cultures.

Essential oils do not treat or cure diseases, but they can help with the symptoms of many conditions. Medical aromatherapy is often combined with conventional medical treatments. It is also used with other CAM treatments such as massage and acupuncture. Essential oils are usually breathed in or placed on the skin.

What are the risks and/or side effects?

Both biofeedback and medical aromatherapy are low-risk.

Biofeedback is very safe. Even though the device is electrical, the electrode patches only sit on the top of the skin. No harmful side effects have been found with biofeedback.

Medical aromatherapy has few side effects, but you should work with your child’s doctor to avoid any practices that can hurt your child or their treatment. For instance, an oil might interfere with another medicine your child is taking, or it might cause an allergic reaction.

Essential oils are very strong and should only be used by trained people. Some essential oils are poisonous if swallowed. Some may cause skin reactions such as a rash, and others might make your child feel worse instead of better. Essential oils are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so the strength of each oil can vary greatly. Here are some general safety tips:

  • Store essential oil bottles away from children and pets.
  • Do not swallow or eat essential oils, as many are toxic or dangerous when swallowed.
  • Use caution in young children, especially if they are younger than 2 years old.
  • Before using any essential oil, talk to your child’s healthcare provider. Some essential oils can interact with your child’s other medicines.
  • Never apply straight essential oils to the skin. Always dilute them with carrier oil or lotion.
  • Limit time in the sun. Essential oils might make your skin more sensitive to sunlight, causing burns and irritation.
  • Be considerate of how the oil’s smell affects other people.

What are the benefits?

CAM practices might be good options when conventional medicine has too many side effects or is not working. For example, if your child suffers from frequent headaches, using biofeedback, aromatherapy, or both might let your child cut back on the doses of over-the-counter or other pain relievers.

Learning to control bodily functions through biofeedback can help manage problems your child has, such as

  • Anxiety [ang-ZAHY-ih-tee]
  • Stress
  • Insomnia [in-SOM-nee-uh] (not being able to sleep)
  • Headaches

Through smell, aromatherapy can also be used to help with many problems. Here are three examples of how three common essential oils can work:

  • Lavender. Lavender is taken from the flowers of the lavender plant. It is often used to calm, comfort, or lift a person’s mood.
  • Orange oil. Orange oil is taken from the peel of an orange fruit, but may not smell just like a fresh orange. Orange oil is used to provide a calming effect and to relieve stomach discomfort.
  • Peppermint. Peppermint comes from peppermint leaves. Peppermint is used to calm and comfort, and to relieve stomach upset.

How do I prepare?

To prepare for biofeedback, you can work with your child’s healthcare provider to find a biofeedback therapist. Then, you can help your child to feel ready to try the training that biofeedback takes. No other preparation is needed before your first session.

Before using aromatherapy, check with your child’s doctor, especially if your child has asthma or allergies. If the essential oil is used on the skin, be sure there are no cuts or irritated skin.

Explain to your child that essential oils are another way to help our bodies heal and feel better. If possible, show what you will do first on yourself or a doll, so your child can see what will happen. 

How is it done or administered?

These two therapies are done in different ways.

How is biofeedback done?>

Biofeedback can be done by a trained biofeedback therapist, who may also be a psychologist. During a session, a therapist will use patches to attach sensors to your child. The sensors lead back to the biofeedback device. Your child will be able to see the screen that shows what is being tracked. The device can measure a range of functions, including:

  • Muscle tension
  • Breathing rate
  • Heart rate
  • Blood pressure
  • Brain activity

The therapist will guide your child through exercises to help them relax or think in a new way. The goal is for your child to be able to re-create this state without the help of the device.

How is medical aromatherapy done?

Many essential oils are used in aromatherapy. Each oil has a different chemical structure that defines what it can be used for and how the body uses it.

Essential oils can help your child to relax, improve their mood, and increase their sense of well-being. Aromatherapy is different for each person and their needs. Not everyone responds the same to each oil.

Essential oils are usually breathed in or placed on the skin. Diffusers, which mix the oils with water and turn them into a mist, are available at many stores.

The essential oil’s smell enters the body through nerve cells in the nose. The nose sends signals to the brain. The brain takes these signals and changes how the person faces feelings such as discomfort, restlessness, and irritability.

Before applying essential oils to the skin, the oil should be mixed with a bland oil (called carrier oil) or lotion. The exact mixture depends on the reason for using the oil.

When will I know the results?

While you and your child might see fast results with either biofeedback or medical aromatherapy, reaching your goal might take time. You should ask your child to tell you if the essential oils are helping or not.

Biofeedback results come with practice and depend on what is being treated. Your child will need to take an active part when they work with the therapist and also practice what they learned at home. Your child’s therapist can give you a better idea of how long it will be before you see results.

What are follow-up requirements and options?

Your child will need several sessions of biofeedback therapy, so you may want to visit with your child’s primary care provider during the course of therapy. When your child has reached their goal, it is a good idea to visit your child’s primary care provider for follow-up.

No follow-up may be needed for medical aromatherapy. If your child likes to use the essential oils, it can become part of your routine. Many people like to diffuse the oils in their home for the nice scent.