dried echinacea flowers

Echinacea for Respiratory Health

Dr. Tori Hudson, N.D.
This content originally appeared on 

What are Respiratory Tract Infections?

Simple respiratory infections include sinus infections and the common cold.

Do Respiratory Infections Go Away?

Up to about 80 percent of the time, they are self-limiting. This means symptoms are harmless and expected to resolve on their own. The only treatment needed is for symptom relief.

Up to 20 percent of respiratory infections are complicated, though, and lead to bronchitis, pneumonia, tonsillitis, conjunctivitis, ear infection, or bacterial sinusitis.

How Do You Prevent Respiratory Infections?

Prevention of respiratory tract infections is the desired goal, of course, but often frequent hand washing, healthy eating, regular exercise, fresh air, and not smoking are not enough.

Here is where one of the valued aspects of echinacea comes in.

Echinacea for Fighting Infections

Echinacea (Echinacea spp.) is used for the prevention and treatment of respiratory tract infections. Previously published studies have shown the herb possesses anti-inflammatory and antiviral effects, and immunomodulatory effects that stimulate immunity. 

Studies on Echinacea

  • To Treat Existing Infections

    The purpose of a recent meta-analysis was to evaluate the efficacy of echinacea on recurrent respiratory tract infections and complications from these infections. The intent of the meta-analysis was to see if two to four months of taking echinacea products could prevent recurrent respiratory tract infections, which then also prevents complications.

  • To Prevent Future Infection

    A comprehensive literature search was done of randomized, placebo-controlled trials using echinacea in healthy individuals over two to four months for prevention of respiratory tract infections. Of the 101 clinical trials, 89 did not meet the full-inclusion criteria. Of the 12 remaining, six were eliminated due to methodology or test materials. The remaining six studies reported significant benefits of echinacea treatment with regard to recurrent respiratory tract infections over those taking placebos. 

  • Alcohol Extracts Compared to Juices

    When comparing the alcohol extracts with the pressed echinacea juices, there was a more pronounced effect from the alcohol extracts. In the largest study, not only was there a reduction in respiratory tract infections, but there also were fewer viral infections in the nasal passages that corresponded to a 58 percent reduction in the risk of viral reinfection. In people with recurrent respiratory tract infections who had risk factors such as stress, poor sleep, and smoking, the benefits were even greater.

  • Echinacea for Other Infections

    Data from three studies also demonstrated a statistically significant reduction in risk for complications such as conjunctivitis, ear infection, tonsillitis, and sinusitis, and even a 64.9 percent reduction in pneumonia in those taking echinacea products. Of additional importance, antibiotic use declined in three studies in those using echinacea compared with control groups or standard treatments.

In summary, this meta-analysis demonstrates that echinacea-containing products significantly reduce the risk of recurrent respiratory tract infections in healthy individuals and in those with risk factors.

Click to See Our Sources

“Echinacea reduces the risk of recurrent respiratory tract infections and complications: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials” by A. Schapowal et al., Adv Ther, 2015