Study shows rose geranium oil eases nasal vestibulitis symptoms

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Promising results from a small study on breast cancer support the need for more research.

Rose geranium oil may help ease the symptoms of nasal vestibulitis, according to the results of a small observational study by Mayo Clinic researchers.

The findings build on anecdotal evidence for the use of rose geranium oil to treat nasal vestibulitis, a common and painful nasal condition linked to cancer drug treatment that affects the lining of the nostrils, causing them to become excessively tender, bleed and form scabs. There are no treatments currently available for this unpleasant side effect of cancer therapy.

Photo of Elizabeth J. Cathcart-Rake, M.D.
Elizabeth J. Cathcart-Rake, M.D.

"Nasal vestibulitis is a side effect of cancer drug treatment and is particularly common in people treated with a class of drugs called taxanes," said lead study author Elizabeth J. Cathcart-Rake, M.D., a hematology/oncology resident at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. "These drugs stop cell division and stunt the formation of new blood vessels to prevent tumor growth."

Researchers set out to determine if the oil might ease symptoms of nasal vestibulitis in 40 women receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer between 2007 and 2017. More than half the patients being studied were being treated with taxanes, and the rest were being treated with a range of broad-spectrum and targeted cancer drugs.

Each woman in the study was given a rose geranium oil spray in a sesame oil base and asked to use it as needed. Each scored the severity of symptoms before and after use and completed a survey about the oil.

The most common nasal signs and symptoms reported were bleeding (65 percent) and discomfort (63 percent). Other signs and symptoms included dryness (30 percent), scabbing (13 percent) and sores (25 percent). The average severity score was just under 3 (out of 4), corresponding to "moderately severe." Twenty-one women responded to the survey, one of whom didn't use the oil because her symptoms resolved when she stopped chemotherapy.

Among the other 20 respondents, half said they used the rose geranium oil daily, with 45 percent saying they used it several times a day. All of the respondents said it helped ease their symptoms: 11 women (55 percent) indicated moderate benefit, six women (30 percent) indicated substantial benefit, and two women (10 percent) said their symptoms cleared up completely.

Results of the study were published online Sept. 26, 2018, in the journal BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care.

Researchers cautioned that larger studies are needed to determine if rose geranium oil is a viable option to ease symptoms of nasal vestibulitis resulting from cancer treatment. The researchers also noted that their study was observational and can't establish cause. They also noted that their findings are limited by the low response rate to the survey.


This article was originally published in Forefront, Mayo Clinic Cancer Center's online magazine, which ceased publication in December 2020.