A randomized study showed that applying a cool wash cloth with peppermint essential oil on a patient’s neck was associated with a significantly greater decrease in the intensity of nausea in patients receiving cancer therapy compared with a cool wash cloth alone.These findings were reported in the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing.1
Nausea is a subjective symptom frequently reported by patients receiving certain types of chemotherapy. It has been associated with dehydration and delays in chemotherapy administration, among other negative outcomes. Furthermore, anxiety associated with fear of chemotherapy-induced nausea is commonly reported and can further diminish the quality of life of these patients.
Although results of a previous study with patients in the postoperative setting have provided some evidence that inhalation of peppermint essential oil was associated with a reduction in nausea, another study of peppermint essential oil aromatherapy conducted with pregnant women showed no significant difference in the severity of nausea and vomiting experienced by these women compared with placebo. Furthermore, data related to the efficacy of aromatherapy in the setting of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting are limited.
Of the 17,893 patients with cancer who were undergoing treatment at an outpatient infusion center associated with an academic oncology center between March 2017 and March 2018, 342 reported experiencing nausea scored as at least 4 out of a maximum of 6 using the Baxter Retching Faces (BARF) pictorial scale.2 Enrolled in this study was a convenience sample of 79 of these patients who were at least 18 years of age, and actively receiving chemotherapy and/or biotherapy or immunotherapy.
Participating patients were randomly assigned to 2 separate groups and both were treated with a cold, damp washcloth applied to the neck, distinguished only by the addition of 2 drops of essential peppermint oil for one of the groups. After 30 minutes, the BARF nausea assessment measure was again administered by a study nurse.
Baseline characteristics for the overall patient cohort included a median age of 52.7 years, with female gender reported for nearly three-quarters of study patients. Following study randomization, age and percentage of females in each group were not significantly different.
A key finding of this study was that while pre-intervention BARF scores for the 2 groups were not significantly different, with mean BARF scores of 6.11 and 5.52 for those treated with and without scent, respectively, there was a significant difference in the mean change in the reported intensity of nausea following these 2 interventions, with decreases of 3.86 points reported by patients exposed to scent and 2.58 points for those without scent exposure (P =.020).
“The results of this study showed a statistically significant benefit to the use of peppermint oil on a cool damp washcloth in patients experiencing chemotherapy-induced nausea. However, additional research is needed to determine whether this intervention can be replicated,” the study authors noted in their concluding remarks.
1. Mapp CP, Hostetler D, Sable JF, et al. Peppermint oil: evaluating efficacy on nausea in patients receiving chemotherapy in the ambulatory setting. Clin J Oncol Nurs. 2020;24(2):160-164.
2. Baxter AL, Watcha MF, Baxter WV, Leong T, Wyatt MM. Development and validation of a pictorial nausea rating scale for children.Pediatrics. 2011;127(6):e1542-e1549.