Nothing can feel worse than dealing with a cold or the flu. And, if you’ve tried home remedies and medicines from the pharmacy, but nothing is making you feel better, then you may be tempted to try something different.
You may have heard that one of the best remedies for a cold or flu is to “sweat it out.” So, if sweating it out can cure a cold, fever or the flu, then you may be wondering if using a sauna when you’re sick can help you get better quickly.
In this post, we’ll examine whether saunas can help to fight cold, fever or the flu.
To answer the question of whether sauna therapy can help you feel better when you’re sick or help you to recover more quickly, it has been seen that using a sauna can help to improve your symptoms of cold, fever or flu.
So how does the sauna help when you’re sick? Let’s take a look at some of the ways by which saunas can help.
Using a sauna helps to increase the core body temperature and relieve stress and pain. The heat of the sauna helps to:
- Increase sweating and eliminate the excess fluid from the body that builds up when your body is fighting an infection. The sweating also eliminates the toxins and chemicals in the body, helping to effectively detoxify your body.
- Helps to open the airways, making it easier for you to breathe when you’re suffering from a stuffy nose and congestion.
- Aids in increasing the blood flow in the body and the oxygenation of the blood. The increased blood flow helps to carry the white blood cells throughout the body, which helps to fight the infection in the body and also helps in detoxification. And, all these factors help to boost the immune system.
- A common symptom of a cold or the flu is body aches, soreness and aching joints and muscles, which are caused due to systemic inflammation that occurs because the immune system is fighting the infection. The heat from the sauna helps the stiff muscles to relax, reduce inflammation and alleviate soreness and fatigue.
According to a study with 25 participants, half of the volunteers used a sauna for 6 months regularly, whereas the other participants did not.
The study showed that the occurrences of the common cold in the group that used the sauna regularly were fewer compared to the group that did not use the sauna. So, regular sauna usage may reduce the probability of catching a cold.
According to another 2017 study, it was seen that regular sauna use helped to reduce the occurrence of pneumonia in Caucasian men aged between 42 to 61 years.
- Be cautious while using sauna therapy when you’re sick.
- Drink plenty of water and stay well-hydrated so that the fluids that are lost because of sweating in the sauna are replenished.
- Avoid using the sauna if you are running a very high fever, if you are very sick, having the flu or a stomach bug because the very high temperatures of the sauna can worsen these conditions.
- Sauna therapy should not be used instead of medical treatment and it is always a good idea to consult your doctor before using the sauna when you’re ill.
In general, when you consider saunas, there are different types—traditional, steam and infrared and you may be wondering which one is the best to use when you’re sick. Let’s take a look at the different types of saunas and the pros and cons of each.
When you refer to a traditional sauna, typically, it is the Finnish sauna, which is operated by heating rocks on a wood fire. The setup also includes a bucket of water and a ladle that allows you to increase the amount of steam.
Traditional saunas can reach temperatures of up to 200°F. The dry sauna is also similar to the Finnish sauna, but uses an electric heater that is mounted on the wall or floor to produce heat.
Traditional saunas are not the best when it comes to using them to alleviate the symptoms of illness. Some of the pros and cons of traditional saunas include:
- Sweat production, which aids in detoxification
- Improves the white blood cell level and functioning of the immune system
- Increases blood circulation, reducing joint, muscle and body stiffness and aches
- Reduces pulmonary congestion
- If you don’t hydrate properly, you can suffer from overheating and heat stroke
- The dry heat can irritate the airways and lungs
- The high temperatures—above 150°F—can cause discomfort
Manufactured with materials like glass, stone, tile or acrylic, steam rooms (saunas) are similar to the baths found in ancient Turkish, Greek and Roman cultures.
The humidity levels in steam baths can reach up to 100%. And, the high levels of humidity help to alleviate the symptoms of cold, cough and the flu.
Some of the pros and cons of steam rooms include:
- Helps to open up the congested airways and flush the mucus build-up
- The high humidity levels help to soothe the irritated respiratory system
- Increased blood circulation helps to activate the white blood cells
- Helps to boost the immune system
- The lower temperature of the steam bath makes it more comfortable compared to the traditional sauna
- Increased risk of dehydration
- The high humidity and moisture may aid the growth of bacteria
- Increased risk of vascular complications
In infrared saunas, the heat produced penetrates the body directly and increases the core body temperature, instead of the space around you.
The temperatures in an infrared sauna are usually around 120°F to 140°F, which is more comfortable and breathing in an infrared sauna is easier because there is no steam or high humidity.
Some of the pros and cons of infrared saunas include:
- The heat penetrates the body, helping to reduce muscle and joint stiffness, soreness and aches
- Activates the white blood cells and strengthens the immune system
- Helps to kill bacteria, viruses and other pathogens
- Helps in the increase of HSPs (heat shock proteins) that help in better performance and recovery and improved health
- Not effective in relieving respiratory congestion like steam rooms
- The dry heat may irritate the airways and worsen your cough
- Greater risk of dehydration
- May worsen heart conditions and compromised immune systems
So, when you compare traditional saunas vs steam saunas vs infrared saunas and you’re looking for relief from symptoms of cold, cough or flu, steam saunas are the best.
They operate at temperatures of around 115°F, which is much lower compared to the other types of saunas. Steam saunas also provide sufficient moisture and humidity that helps to reduce the symptoms of cold, cough and the flu.
Using a steam sauna if you’re suffering from a cold is best to alleviate cold symptoms, including stuffy nose, cough, headache, sore throat, irritated nasal passages and breathing problems.
In fact, sauna bathing can help to prevent you from catching a cold.
But when using a steam sauna, you must ensure that you drink plenty of water and are well-hydrated because inadequate hydration can cause you to become overheated and also cause heatstroke.
Also, staying well-hydrated is key to getting better quickly when suffering from a cold.
If you’re suffering from a cough, steam sauna therapy can help to reduce the mucus build-up and also relieve irritation of the respiratory system.
According to a 2017 study, it was seen that steam therapy helps to moisten the dry and irritated air passages and is often recommended for illnesses that cause coughing such as bronchitis, sinusitis, etc.
It has been seen that over time, sauna bathing can strengthen lung function. In fact, it can improve breathing in people suffering from chronic respiratory issues like allergies and asthma.
If you want to strengthen your lung function, then it is recommended that you start with 5 minutes of sauna therapy sessions and gradually increase the time. Using breathing techniques such as the Wim Hof Method can also help.
Flu is often accompanied by symptoms such as fever, fatigue, muscle aches and chills. Sauna therapy can help to reduce your aching muscles and body and also fatigue; however, using a sauna may be dangerous if you’re having a high fever.
So, it is best not to use the sauna if you’re having the flu. Going for a sauna session when you’re sick with the flu and attempting to sweat it out can make things worse.
The heat of the sauna can cause your body to lose fluids and electrolytes because of sweating, which are essential for the body and aid in faster recovery.
Also, heating the body and elevating the body temperature will only worsen the flu symptoms and make you feel sicker.
So, if you have the flu, it is best to rest and hydrate well by drinking plenty of water and liquids and avoid sauna therapy.
If you’re having a fever, the body is weakened and so is your immune system. Fevers cause the body to become stressed and you need to give your body, as well your immune system, the opportunity to recover.
And, at this time, visiting a sauna and increasing the core body temperature can cause more harm than good and can also lead to complications, including arrhythmia or myocarditis.
So, when you’re having a fever, it is not recommended to use any kind of sauna.
If you’re suffering from viral gastroenteritis or any other stomach bug, exposing yourself to very high temperatures, including that in a sauna can make your nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever worse.
So, it is best to avoid using the sauna if you’re suffering from the stomach flu.
In conclusion, sauna therapy is a great way to relax and feel completely rejuvenated. Sauna therapy, especially steam saunas, can help to reduce the symptoms of cold, cough and congestion.
But it is recommended not to use sauna therapy when you’re sick with the flu, stomach flu or fever, as it can worsen your condition.
And, if you are feeling under the weather but still want to use the sauna, then it is best to consult your doctor before getting into one.