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You might have heard the idea that one of the best treatments for the common cold is to sweat it out. As it turns out... that might not be the best form of fighting a cold or flu. Today we’re going to look at the notion of whether or not a sauna is a good treatment for the symptoms of a cold or flu. While the health benefits of infrared saunas have been clearly mapped out in medical literature, there is contention around the idea that a sauna is beneficial for the treatment of the common cold or a flu.
This is due to the fact that saunas have been proven beneficial when it comes to the fortification of the body’s immune system, but while you’re sick, the associated heat stress and potential for dehydration can make it problematic, and potentially hazardous for health. Let’s first take a look at the benefits of a sauna for our immune system, and look at how this differs in the context of fighting a cold or flu at home.
Is A Sauna Good For The Immune System?
Saunas, in particular, infrared saunas have been proven to be beneficial for the human body to fight pathogens and toxins, due to the way in which they provide our immune system with the building blocks they need to stay strong, cold-fighting machines. We’ve talked previously about how infrared saunas can help detox your lymphatic system, which maintains the health of your immune system and the ability to fight toxins in the body. The lymphatic system is connected to both the immune and cardiovascular systems, which are accelerated during the time you’re spending inside a sauna.
As the temperature rises, the heat stress from the sauna is able to simulate an artificial fever of sorts, that your body’s immune system responds to by accelerating the production of white blood cells - your body’s germ-fighting cells. These heat stresses from a sauna have also been proven to increase the body’s cardiovascular response, and increases blood flow around the body. This added blood flow can provide the energy and nutrients that your immune system requires to continue its fight against pathogens and combat the symptoms of a common cold or flu.
Is A Sauna Good For Treating A Cold?
While using a sauna has been proven beneficial when it comes to preventing a cold, it’s believed that using a sauna as a treatment for a cold or flu offers few benefits. A 2010 study from the Medical Journal of Australia found that for dry saunas, “inhaling hot air while in a sauna has no significant impact on overall symptom severity of the common cold,” and could actually make symptoms worse. Considering that under heat stress, the body’s sweat response is triggered, spending too much time in a sauna to treat the symptoms of a common cold could in fact make you more dehydrated.
Staying hydrated is one of the most important aspects in fighting the common cold or flu, and if your body is losing more fluid than it is ingesting, this could hinder your immune system’s ability to fight pathogens causing your sickness.
In terms of hot or steam saunas, where people often believe that ingesting hot steam is beneficial in fighting a common cold, two studies have called these into contention. A review of six clinical studies determined that there were neither benefits, nor downsides to inhaling hot, humid air in a sauna when treating a cold. A 2012 study looked in-depth at hot steam inhalation as a treatment for the common cold and found that there were more risks on offer than benefits, due to the potential of burns from ingesting high temperature water and steam. Drawing from the findings of these research studies, it’s safe to say that a sauna is not an effective treatment for the symptoms of a cold or flu, and can indeed make some symptoms worse if you’re not adequately hydrated.
In essence, while saunas are no doubt effective at stimulating both the immune and lymphatic systems to prevent you catching a cold, they aren’t necessarily the answer to combating the symptoms of that cold.
Is A Sauna Good For Chest Congestion?
While saunas aren’t necessarily your best tool for fighting the symptoms of a common cold or flu, they can be useful when it comes to treating symptoms like chest congestion. Both the hot, humid air and the reduction of inflammation within the body can contribute to the treatment of chest congestion when you have a cold. In a sauna or steam room, inhaling warm, humid air can help to break up phlegm and clear the lung’s airways. This, as we mentioned earlier, though, comes with the risk of inhaling steam that is too hot. So, if you are using a sauna as a treatment for chest congestion, ensure that the air is at a comfortable and safe temperature to inhale.
Ensure that if you are using a sauna for the treatment of a cold or its symptoms, you stay hydrated, and limit your time inside the sauna to 15-20 minutes.
If you would like to learn more about the health benefits that infrared saunas can offer, feel free to read from our list of medical studies, clinical studies, blogs and FAQs from our website here.