A staph infection can be deadly if you don’t get the right medical treatment. So, how does the “Staph,” a normally harmless bacterium that lives in your airways and on your skin, cause serious diseases? What are the treatments for Staph infections? Can essential oils help? Read on to find out more.
- 1 Staph Infection: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments
- 2 Best Essential Oils for Staph Infections
- 3 How to Use Essential Oils for Staph Infections
Staph Infection: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments
Out of the thirty types of Staphylococcus bacteria, it’s Staphylococcus aureus (or “staph”) that causes the most infections. Most people, even those who are relatively healthy, have this bacterium (the singular form of bacteria). It’s usually found on the skin and in the upper airways. In around 25% of people, it could be living in their anal area, mouth, nose, and reproductive organs, without causing infections. 
Staphylococcus aureus doesn’t usually cause life-threatening infections. However, a Staph infection can be deadly if the bacterium goes deeper into your body and enters your bloodstream and/or affects your bones, joints, and vital organs (e.g., heart and lungs).
Over the years, there’s an increasing number of relatively healthy people who are developing a deadly type of Staph infection. According to a research conducted by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, there are approximately 1.2 million hospital patients in the United States who are infected by antibiotic-resistant Staph infection (potentially dangerous) every year. 
What are the symptoms of a staph infection?
A Staph infection usually starts when the bacterium finds its way into a small cut, bite, or scrape. It spreads from person to person through direct skin contact, sharing of personal items (e.g., towels and toothbrushes), and droplets from coughs and sneezes (uncommon).
Since a Staph infection comes in different forms–from acne to blood poisoning–the symptoms you’ll experience will greatly vary. They’ll mostly depend on the affected area and infection severity.
Skin infections are the most common type of disease caused by Staphylococcus aureus. To give you an idea, here are some examples of skin diseases associated with Staph infections:
A boil is the most common type of Staph infection.
Some of the signs and symptoms of boils include:
- A bump that’s painful and red
- The infected skin around the bump is red, swollen, painful, and warm.
- The bump grows in size after a few days as it fills with pus (from the size of a pea to the size of a baseball)
- The development of more boils near the original boil
- Swollen lymph nodes
- A fever
This is a painful and potentially dangerous bacterial infection that affects the skin and tissues. Doctors treat this condition by prescribing antibiotics (oral or intravenous).
Other signs and symptoms include:
- A skin that’s red, swollen, warm, and tender to the touch
- A fever
- A pink or red area of skin that tends to spread quickly
- Dimpling of the skin
- A glossy, tight skin appearance
This is a common and contagious skin infection that typically affects babies and children (2 to 6 years old). It’s usually caused by Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria. Your risk of developing impetigo increases if you live somewhere that has a warm climate, engage in contact sports (e.g., football and rugby), or have a pre-existing medical condition or sensitive skin.
Common signs and symptoms of impetigo include:
- Clustered red spots or sores on the skin that quickly develop into blisters, which can rupture and ooze, and then form a yellowish-brown crust
- Mildly itchy and occasionally painful sores around the nose and mouth
- Large blisters on the chest, abdomen, and back of babies and young children (less common)
- Fever and swollen lymph glands in the area of the outbreak (for severe cases)
- Painful and fluid- or pus-filled sores, which can develop into deep ulcers (ecthyma)
Ritter’s disease is also known as staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome, localized bullous, or pemphigus neonatorum.
This is a short-term dermatological condition caused by the toxins produced by Staphylococcus aureus.
Ritter’s disease typically starts with:
- Extreme tiredness
- Fever and chills
- Conjunctivitis (swelling or inflammation of the thin, layer of tissue that lines the surface of the eyelid and envelops the white portion of the eye)
- Poor appetite
Blood poisoning (septicemia)
This happens when the Staph bacteria enter your bloodstream. This is a life-threatening condition because the bacteria and their harmful toxins are transported to the different parts of your body, such as in your lungs, heart, brain, and kidneys.
Warning signs of blood poisoning include :
- Fever (101°F or 38.3°C) or hypothermia (below 96.8°F or 36°C)
- Rapid heart rate (over 90 beats per minute)
- Rapid breathing (20 breaths per minute)
- An abnormally low blood pressure (septic shock)
- Changes in mental status
- Nausea and vomiting
Other illnesses that can be caused by Staphylococcus aureus are:
- Food poisoning – This can happen a few hours (around 6 to 72 hours) after you consume the contaminated food or drink. Some of the possible signs and symptoms of staph food poisoning are diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and abdominal pain or cramping.
- Infectious arthritis – Also known as septic arthritis or joint infection, infectious arthritis starts when the bacteria spread through your bloodstream from a break or opening in your skin or other areas of your body. Symptoms of an infectious arthritis include severe pain, fever, chills, swollen joints, fatigue, weakness throughout the body, and impaired mobility of the affected joint.
- Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) – This medical condition generally affects menstruating women. Some of its possible signs and symptoms are abnormally low blood pressure, sudden high fever, sunburn-like rash, muscle pain, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, confusion, and redness in or around the eyes, mouth, and throat.
Can you treat Staph infections?
Doctors usually prescribe antibiotics for Staph infections. However, there are some strains of Staphylococcus, particularly methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which don’t respond to antibiotics. You might need to take stronger antibiotics, such as certain cephalosporins, sulfa-containing drugs, or vancomycin, to clear the infection. If the Staph bacterium invades deeper into a wound, your doctor might have to surgically clean it to remove damaged tissues.
You may also benefit from using essential oils alongside conventional treatment for Staph infections. Preliminary studies have shown that essential oils contain chemicals that could be active against Staphylococcus aureus and MRSA.
Best Essential Oils for Staph Infections
Eucalyptus Essential Oil
The leaves of the Tasmanian blue gum, scientifically known as Eucalyptus globulus, are the major sources of eucalyptus essential oil worldwide. Today, this essential oil has been used for over-the-counter cold and cough medications, topical painkillers, vapor chest rubs, and sprays for sore throat, among others.
Because of its antibacterial activity, eucalyptus essential oil can be a good remedy for various infectious diseases. A clinical trial published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine has shown that the essential oil extracted from the leaves of Eucalyptus globulus can kill or stop the growth of Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus. 
The active ingredient in eucalyptus essential oil known as eucalyptol can also help relieve coughs. If you have a respiratory infection caused by Staph, such as pneumonia, you can reduce or slow the spread of infection by using this essential oil to control your cough (thus, preventing droplet transmission of bacteria) and disinfect your home.
Don’t use eucalyptus essential oil if you have a chronic lung disease (such as asthma), cancer, and/or allergies. If you’re taking sleeping pills or other sedative medications, you might want to limit or avoid this essential oil. This is also not for babies and children under the age of 6.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil (TTO) has been used in traditional medicine for hundreds of years. It’s believed to have antibacterial activity, which is backed by a few scientific studies.
In one clinical trial published in The Journal of Hospital Infection, the result suggests that a combination of 5% tea tree oil body wash and 4% tea tree oil nose ointment was more effective in the removal (“decolonization”) of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus than the standard combination (2% mupirocin nose ointment and triclosan body wash).  Although a larger, peer-reviewed study is still needed to confirm this result.
Tea tree oil is also used as an adjunct treatment for osteomyelitis and chronic wound infection.  Osteomyelitis is a type of infection of the bone, particularly the bones of the spine, pelvis, upper arm, and leg, or the bone marrow that’s caused by Staphylococcus aureus. The signs and symptoms of osteomyelitis include nausea, fatigue, irritability, fever, limited range of motion, swelling around the infected bone, and signs of inflammation in the affected area (redness, tenderness, and warmth).
Not a lot is known about how tea tree oil fights certain strains of bacteria. A study suggests that it might help fight infection by compromising the bacteria’s cytoplasmic membrane, which controls the substances that enter and exit the cell.
One way it compromises the cell membrane of the bacteria is to make them intolerant to sodium chloride (NaCl).  When non-halophilic bacteria (organisms that don’t survive in a high-salt environment) are exposed to sodium chloride, they become dehydrated and eventually die.
There’s currently no proof that tea tree oil interacts with mainstream medications, such as antibiotics.  Pregnant or breastfeeding women and people who have an immune system-related disease should refrain from using it.
Tea tree oil is poisonous if you swallow it. Some of its negative effects if you put it on your skin include:
- Burning or stinging sensation
- Skin irritation
- Dryness or scaling
- Inflammation of the skin (dermatitis)
Clove Essential Oil
Out of the three types of clove essential oil, the essential oil extracted from the clove buds–scientifically known as Eugenia carophyllata–is the most preferred by aromatherapists. The ability of clove essential oil to treat several health problems, including bacterial infections, is largely attributed to its active ingredient called eugenol, which compromises as much as 90% of the oil. 
A clinical study tested the antibacterial activity of eucalyptus and clove essential oils against four strains of bacteria: Bacillus subtilis, Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Sphingobium indicum.  Among the two, it was clove essential oil that proved to be more effective in stopping the growth of all bacteria used in the study.
How does the antibacterial activity of clove essential oil work? That’s the specific aim of a study published in the journal Molecules. 
The result of this study has shown that clove bud essential oil has a strong activity against Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus). It works by breaking down the protective layer of the bacterium, which causes the materials inside it to come out. By destroying the bacterium’s outer layer, the active chemicals in clove essential oil can go inside and interfere with its normal DNA replication (which in turn affects the growth of the bacterium). This process will eventually lead to the death of S. aureus.
Clove bud essential oil is also used to treat respiratory problems, such as asthma, cough, sinusitis, tuberculosis, and the common cold. If you don’t want to spread the germs, add a few drops of the essential oil to a diffuser or a bowl of steaming water then inhale its therapeutic vapor for 5 to 10 minutes.
Undiluted clove essential oil can be harmful if you take it by mouth, especially in large amounts. It doesn’t only damages the sensitive tissues in your mouth, throat, food pipe (esophagus), and stomach, but it can also cause epileptic seizure, nausea, vomiting, and blood issues.
This is not recommended for the following people:
- People who have sensitive skin
- People who suffer from certain kidney and/or liver problems
Oregano Essential Oil
Like most essential oils for Staph infections, oregano essential oil has shown in preliminary clinical trials that it’s quite effective at killing Staphylococcus aureus.  It’s also great for treating common infections caused by other bacteria and fungi, such as Escherichia coli, salmonella, and candida.
Oregano essential oil is not advisable for internal use because of the risk of toxicity. However, the oil of oregano is a good substitute. The germ-killing properties of oil of oregano are comparable to that of conventional antibiotics, such as streptomycin, penicillin, and vancomycin, according to a study conducted by Georgetown University researchers.  They also found out that oil of oregano at relatively low amounts can be effective at controlling drug-resistant Staphylococcus bacteria.
Another advantage of using oregano essential oil is it can strengthen your immune system. Plus, it contains certain compounds, such as carvacrol, which are natural antioxidants. These qualities of this essential oil can be a great help when you’re battling bacterial or fungal infections.
Oregano essential oil is likely safe in small amounts. However, it’s still important to use it carefully, regardless if you’re going to inhale it or apply it to your skin.
Potential side effects of this essential oil include nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, speech difficulty, swelling, rashes, and breathing difficulty.
This essential oil might not be safe for:
- Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
- Babies and children
- People with certain ailments, such as abnormally high blood pressure (over 120/80 mmHg) and heart disease
- People with sensitive skin or who are allergic to basil, lavender, marjoram, mint, or sage
Thyme Essential Oil
Thyme has been recognized as a medicinal herb for thousands of years in Mediterranean and neighboring countries. When it comes to bacterial infections, thyme essential oil can be a good remedy. It’s effective against different species of bacteria, such as Enterococcus, Escherichia coli, Salmonella, and Pseudomonas.
Some studies suggest that thyme essential oil has a number of medicinal properties that can help treat Staph infections. In a study presented in the International Journal of Essential Oil Therapeutics, the researchers wanted to find out if thyme essential oil can help patients with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).  The result showed that the essential oil could help in killing MRSA.
One of the possible reasons thyme essential oil is a great antibacterial agent:
Each batch of this essential oil are not exactly the same. There are small differences in its chemistry, which prevents the Staphylococcus bacterium from becoming resistant to its antibiotic effects.
Thyme essential oil can be irritating if you don’t dilute it properly. In some people, it might cause dizziness, headache, digestive issues, and vomiting.
The following people are discouraged from using thyme essential oil:
- Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding
- Those who have problems with their blood pressure, heart, thyroid gland, and digestive organs
- Those who have sensitive skin or allergies, especially to Lamiaceae plants, such as basil, lavender, rosemary, and sage
Clary Sage Essential Oil
Clary sage (Salvia sclarea) essential oil has been used by traditional medicine for a long time. Like many essential oils, it’s believed to have antibacterial qualities, which make it useful for treating wounds, small cuts, and skin infections. The result of a 2015 study has shown that it’s active against three species of Staphylococcus, including Staphylococcus aureus. 
Even if you don’t have a Staph skin infection, you can use still use clary sage essential oil. It’s great for promoting skin health by reducing inflammation, moisturizing dry skin, and controlling the skin’s oil production.
Clary sage essential oil is likely safe when used topically, except if you’re pregnant. Don’t use this after drinking alcohol or taking a narcotic medication. This is also not for people with abnormally low blood pressure (below 90/60 mmHg) or hormonal problems.
How to Use Essential Oils for Staph Infections
Combining essential oils for treating a Staph infection might offer more significant results than using them alone. There are different blends that you can use. But based on a clinical study published in the Biochimie Open, blending these essential oils is more effective in stopping the growth of Staphylococcus aureus and other strains of bacteria :
- Orange essential oil
- Patchouli essential oil
- Peppermint essential oil
- Clary sage essential oil
Another essential oil blend you could use to fight resistant Staph:
- Tea tree oil
- Geranium essential oil
- Oregano essential oil or oil of oregano
Depending on the area or type of Staph infection, the best ways to use essential oils is through aromatherapy and application on the skin. Taking them internally, even when diluted, might pose serious health risks.
You can’t completely get rid of Staph bacteria, which usually live harmlessly on our skin surfaces and in our airways. If they do cause an infection, it’s usually minor and treatable. A Staph infection only becomes a problem if the bacteria are able to go deeper into your body, where it can cause a large amount of damage.
The NHS recommends consulting your doctor immediately if your Staph skin infection:
- Lasts more than 7 days
- Becomes worse or is spreading to others fast
- Keeps coming back
It’s also important to seek prompt medical attention if you develop a Staph infection when your immune system is weak.
Due to overuse and misuse, many strains of Staph bacteria have become resistant to one or several antibiotics. According to WebMD, only around 10% of Staph infections today can be treated with penicillin. The increased cases of antibiotic resistance have forced health professionals and scientists to discover stronger antibiotics.
Essential oils can be a good adjunct treatment to mainstream antibiotics. However, more large-scale, peer-reviewed studies are still needed to confirm their effectiveness and safeness in curing Staph infections. Be sure to speak with your doctor before using essential oils for any purpose.
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