Menthol, in lozenges, nasal sprays, vapo-rubs, inhalers, and cough syrups, is widely used as a treatment for rhinitis that is associated with acute upper respiratory tract infection and allergy. Menthol as a plant extract has been used in traditional medicine in Asia for the treatment of respiratory diseases for hundreds of years, but it was only introduced to the West as a medicine at the end of the 19th century. With the recent discovery of a menthol receptor on the sensory nerves that modulate the cool sensation, menthol has graduated from the realms of herbal medicine into the field of molecular pharmacology. This review concerns the physiologic and pharmacologic mechanisms that underlie the widespread use of menthol as a treatment for the relief of nasal congestion associated with rhinitis and its effects on the drive to breathe and symptomatic relief of dyspnea.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
References and Recommended Reading
Potter F: The use of menthol in diseases of the upper air passages. JAMA 1890, 14:147–149.
McKemy, DD, Neuhausser WM, Julius D: Identification of a cold receptor reveals a general role for TRP channels in thermosensation. Nature 2002, 416:52–58. First isolation of CMR1. This paper establishes that there is a specific receptor on trigeminal nerve endings that binds menthol.
Watson HR, Hems R, Rowsell DG, Spring DJ: New compounds with the menthol cooling effect. J Soc Cosmet Chem 1978, 29:185–200.
Eccles R: Menthol and related cooling compounds. J Pharm Pharmacol 1994, 46:618–630.
Amano A: Cooling and pungent agents. J Jap Soc Cutaneous Health 1986, 17:77–86.
Goldsheider A: Uber specische Wirking des Menthols. Arch Anat Physiol abt. Leipzig 1886, 555–558.
Eccles R: Effects of menthol on nasal sensation of airflow. Chemical Senses, vol 2: Irritation. Edited by Green BG. New York: Dekker; 1990:275–295.
Hensel H: Thermal sensations and thermoreceptors in man. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas; 1982.
Suto K, Gotoh H: Calcium signaling in cold cells studied in cultured dorsal root ganglion neurons. Neuroscience 1999, 92:1131–1135.
Schafer K, Braun HA, Isenberg C: Effect of menthol on cold receptor activity. J Gen Physiol 1986, 88:757–776.
Fox N: Effect of camphor, eucalyptol, and menthol on the vascular state of the mucous membrane. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 1927, 6:112–122.
Butler DB, Ivy AC: Effects of nasal inhalers on erectile tissues of the nose. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 1943, 38:309–317.
Glass HB, Bliss AR: The menthols. Drug Cosmet Indus 1939, 44:289–305.
Burrow A, Eccles R, Jones AS: The effects of camphor, eucalyptus and menthol vapour on nasal resistance to airflow and nasal sensation. Acta Otolaryngol 1983, 96:157–161.
Eccles R, Lancashire B, Tolley NS: The effect of aromatics on inspiratory and expiratory nasal resistance to airflow. Clin Otolaryngol 1987, 12:11–14.
Eccles R, Griffiths DH, Newton G, Tolley NS: The effects of menthol isomers on nasal sensation of airflow. Clin Otolaryngol 1988, 13:25–29.
Eccles R, Jawad MS, Morris S: The effects of oral administration of (-)-menthol on nasal resistance to airflow and nasal sensation of airflow in subjects suffering from nasal congestion associated with the common cold. J Pharm Pharmacol 1990, 42:652–654.
Jones AS, Wright RG, Durnam LH: The distribution of thermoreceptors within the nasal cavity. Clin Otolaryngol 1989, 14:235–239.
Jones AS, Lancer JM, Beckingham E: The effect of local anaesthesia of the nasal vestibule on nasal sensation of airflow and nasal resistance. Clin Otolaryngol 1987, 12:461–464.
Clarke RW, Jones AS, Charters P, Sherman I: The role of mucosal receptors in the nasal sensation of airflow. Clin Otolaryngol 1992, 17:383–387.
Eccles R, Morris S, Tolley NS: The effects of nasal anaesthesia upon nasal sensation of airflow. Acta Otolaryngol 1988, 106:152–155.
Naito K, Komori M, Kondo Y, et al.: The effect of L-menthol stimulation of the major palatine nerve on subjective and objective nasal patency. Auris Nasus Larynx 1997, 24:159–162.
Eccles R: Role of cold receptors and menthol in thirst, the drive to breathe and arousal. Appetite 2000, 34:29–35. First paper to discuss the role of cold receptors in the upper airway and the effects of menthol on the satiety of thirst and the drive to breathe.
Jones AS, Lancer JM, Shone G, Stevens JC: The effect of lignocaine on nasal resistance and nasal sensation of airflow. Acta Otolaryngol 1986, 101:328–330.
McBride B, Whitelaw WA: Physiological stimulus to upper airway receptors in humans. J Appl Physiol 1981, 51:1189–1197.
Burgess KR, Whitelaw WA: Effects of nasal cold receptors on pattern of breathing. J Appl Physiol 1988, 64:371–376.
Orani GP, Anderson JW, Sant’Ambrogio FB: Upper airway cooling and l-menthol reduce ventilation in the guinea pig. J Appl Physiol 1991, 70:2080–2086.
Sekizawa S, Tsubone H, Kuwahara M, Sugano S: Nasal receptors responding to cold and l-menthol air-flow in the Guinea-pig. Respir Physiol 1996, 103:211–219.
Eccles R: Menthol: a spectrum of efficacy. Int Pharm J 1994, 8:17–21.
Sloan A, De Cort SC, Eccles R: Prolongation of breath-hold time following treatment with an l-menthol lozenge in healthy man. J Physiol 1993, 473:53.
Fang L, Clausen G, Fanger PO: Impact of temperature and humidity on perception of indoor air quality during immediate and longer whole-body exposures. Indoor Air 1998, 8:276–284.
Nishino T, Tagaito Y, Sakurai Y: Nasal inhalation of 1-menthol reduces respiratory discomfort associated with loaded breathing. Am J Resp Crit Care Med 1997, 156:309–313.
Liss HP, Grant BJB: The effect of nasal flow on breathlessness in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary-disease. Amer Rev Respir Dis 1988, 137:1285–1288.
About this article
Cite this article
Eccles, R. Menthol: Effects on nasal sensation of airflow and the drive to breathe. Curr Allergy Asthma Rep 3, 210–214 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11882-003-0041-6
- Dorsal Root Ganglion Neuron
- Nasal Congestion
- Respiratory Drive
- Nasal Airflow