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Can a Sauna Help with a Cold? – Read this Before You Go

by Max
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Can a Sauna Help with a Cold - Read this Before You Go

You’ve probably heard before that one of the best ways to hold off a cold is to sweat it out. So it’s only natural, then, to guess that one of the best ways to get a sweat going is by taking a sauna. While a sauna will certainly get you sweaty, are saunas really able to help clear up a cold? There is a lot to know and understand when it comes to using a sauna as a cold treatment, so let’s start from the top.

Can a Sauna Help with a Cold?

Once a person already has a cold, there is very little that a traditional wood-burning sauna can do to reduce those symptoms. This, however, is only true for dry heat saunas. There is another type of bathhouse that normally gets paired together with saunas that has some good cold relief qualities. Steam rooms specifically have the ability to reduce some cold symptoms like congestion. But regarding the belief that spending time in the sauna can help you “sweat out” your cold, this is not true. When the body is sick, it desperately needs water in order to keep your systems running smoothly. Being that a sick person’s body is already working overtime to keep the sickness at bay, sweating out more of your water in a sauna may be dangerous. For example, if you already have a fever, sweating in a sauna could make you faint or eventually cause dehydration.

Can a Steam Room Help with a Cold?

While saunas don’t have much value in reducing your cold symptoms, steam rooms are actually very helpful in clearing up some types of colds. Steam rooms are, as the name would imply, steamy. The average steam room has a humidity rating above 95% and often presses toward 100%. In that type of environment, the body takes in a lot of water vapor in each and every breath. When we breathe in air with water vapor, our body starts to clear out mucus and phlegm buildup in our noses and lungs. So if you have a cold with symptoms like congestion or a runny nose, you may find some relief in a steam room. Further, if you have a dry throat as a result of your cold, you may find that taking deep breaths in a steam room could lead to relief as well. If you have cold symptoms outside of these, however, it’s quite unlikely a steam room could do particularly much for you. Be certain, also, to use the same caution you already would in a sauna. Specifically, be sure that your steam room is both not too hot (avoid going above 45 degrees) and that you don’t spend more than 20 minutes in the room per session. The reason that steam rooms are helpful for colds is that steam rooms are uniquely good at clearing out the body’s sinuses. Therefore, if you are dealing with a common cold that makes you produce a lot of mucus, consider taking a brief trip to the steam room.

Can an Infrared Sauna Help with a Cold?

Infrared saunas are naturally very healthy, and because they are usually for solo use only, it makes sense for a person with a cold to want to try using their infrared sauna to clear up their symptoms. There, however, is no evidence that using an infrared sauna will speed up your cold recovery or reduce your cold symptoms. The infrared sauna environment is very similar to that of a wood-burning sauna. Both an infrared and wood-burning sauna are exceedingly dry which can actually lead to discomfort for people whose colds include a sore throat.

Unlike a steam room with water vapor in loads for your body to breathe in, an infrared sauna is hot because of the electric heaters in the sauna’s machinery. That air will be completely dry for the same reason that overexposure in a wood-burning sauna is dangerous; spending too long in an infrared sauna while sick is equally unsafe.

What Types of Colds are We Talking About?

When we say “the common cold,” everyone probably has a fairly similar image that pops into their heads. Maybe you think of a headache and sore throat, or equally, you may think of fever and congestion. Each of these examples counts as a “common cold,” as the common cold is a combination of several hundred different viruses that all affect the body in a minor way for healthy people. The common cold is essentially any minor virus that doesn’t already have a well-known name. For example, even though influenza has many symptoms as the common cold, it is not considered part of the common cold virus cluster because the flu, or influenza, is its own virus. By that right, the same is true for COVID-19. If you have the flu or even something as serious as COVID-19, ask your doctor about your recovery and follow their instructions, as using the sauna when your body is already under strain can be very dangerous.

Should You Ever Sauna with a Cold?

Only you can be the judge of your body and tolerance, but in general, it’s usually wise to tone down sauna use when you have a cold. When the human body gets sick, it usually heats up because of how hard it works to make you healthy again. It doesn’t need any help getting hotter. There are several major disadvantages to taking a sauna while feeling the symptoms of a cold. At that, there are virtually no benefits to it beyond feeling good if you already enjoy saunas. But there is a good chance that even if you spend a lot of time in saunas, taking a sauna with a cold is likely not very pleasant.

Can You Sweat Out a Cold?

No, you can’t sweat out a cold. Forcing your body to sweat in the sauna during a cold is quite dangerous. Think about what happens when you sweat. Sweating is the body letting off the water to cool the body. The ultimate goal of sweat is returning the body to homeostasis … which is, of course, the same reason that a sick body is already hot! When sick with a virus like the common cold, the body naturally heats up (sometimes reaching a fever). This happens for a multitude of reasons, but most importantly, the body is working extra hard to clear out the virus from the body and return it to homeostasis. If an already sick body goes into a hot sauna and starts sweating, the already overexerted body is about to go on triple duty.

Can You Sweat Out Cold Toxins in the Sauna?

So many people hail saunas for their detoxifying qualities. Saunas indeed have detoxifying attributes, but the detox that comes from saunas has nothing to do with a common cold. The word “toxin” itself can mean many things, but when it comes to sweating in a sauna and clearing up a cold, those are two wholly different toxins. When we sweat in the sauna, our body clears out the dirt and oils that build up in our pores; those oils and that dirt are the toxins that we detoxify in the sauna. That dirt and oil have absolutely nothing to do with the virus that causes symptoms of the common cold.

When we are talking about a common cold or any kind of virus, those toxins are as small as cells. The only way for the body to get rid of viruses is by fighting them off with white blood cells and proteins on the molecular level. There is nothing you can do to meaningfully speed up that cellular process, but there are a few things you can do to aid their comfort when dealing with a virus like the common cold. Also, saunas aren’t wholly worthless when it comes to dealing with colds.

Saunas Can Help Prevent Colds

While saunas are not especially helpful in reducing cold symptoms or speeding up the amount of time you spend sick, saunas are actually proven to help prevent the body from contracting colds in the first place. Both a Finnish and Australian study of people using saunas over an extended amount of time found that when compared to a similar group who did not use saunas, people who regularly used saunas contracted colds and other illnesses less.

The studies don’t hypothesize why saunas are able to help a person hold off colds, but one of the best guesses has to do with one of the health benefits tied to saunas. Spending time in the sauna makes the body produce heat shock proteins. Heat shock proteins are primarily used to keep our body from getting too hot, but another benefit of these proteins is that they boost our immune system. Specifically, a study found that regular sauna use and increased heat shock protein counts led directly to a reduced amount of common colds in subjects.

Best Ways to Fight a Cold with Saunas

Following some key steps, there are more than a few ways that regular sauna use can help you with colds.

Best Ways to Fight a Cold with Saunas
Best Ways to Fight a Cold with Saunas

Sauna Regularly Before Getting a Cold

As explained above, using a wood-burning sauna or an infrared sauna makes the body create more heat-shock proteins. These proteins are directly linked with strengthening our immune system and reducing our chances of getting sick. So before you even have a cold, consider making regular sauna use a part of your routine. Getting in the habit of regular sauna use is one of the best ways to hold off potential sicknesses like the common cold. Beyond immune system benefits, using a sauna regularly is also very good for your respiratory health. This means that if your future colds have a cough or any kind of breathing discomfort, your future colds may have lessened symptoms. This is because good respiratory health can help prevent discomfort from colds.

Avoid Using the Sauna with a Fever

If your cold comes with a fever that puts your body over 37 degrees, it’s likely wise not to use the sauna. While there are many people who push the idea of heat therapy, the idea of heat therapy only makes sense when the body is healthy. The health benefits that come from wood-burning saunas only apply to healthy people, as the heat of traditional saunas is likely too aggressive for most people who have a common cold. If you have any kind of fever, spending time in a sauna will likely lead to discomfort before relief.

Try Using a Steam Room if You Have Congestion

Steam rooms are very helpful when fighting congestion. The steam in the air makes the body release more mucus and chest congestion compared to dryer environments. But for the same reason that wood-burning and infrared saunas may be dangerous to people with a fever, steam rooms can also be dangerous. Spending too long in a steam room with a fever from the common cold can quickly lead to lightheadedness and discomfort. Even worse, because the body is already using so much water to fight the common cold, spending too long in a steam room could easily make you become dehydrated. If you have a fever and are looking for relief similar to what you could find in a steam room, consider using a humidifier in a closed room.

Don’t Spend More than 20 Minutes in the Sauna with a Cold

Even if you don’t have a fever, be certain that your time in the sauna never goes past 20 minutes when you have a cold. Even healthy people should be wary of going past 20 minutes, but people who are already in the middle of fighting off a cold have an increased risk of just about every potential problem that could happen in the sauna. From dehydration to headaches, everything that could lead to discomfort in a sauna is even more likely to happen to someone who is experiencing a common cold.

Don’t Use a Public or Municipal Sauna with a Cold

As a common courtesy, never use a public sauna when you are sick. Even something minor, like a common cold, can actually spread even quicker in a sauna compared to the normal air outside. Even modern saunas are a closed environment. This means that viruses that spread through the air can go from person to person quite easily. If you step into a public sauna with a cold, every breath you take will slowly spread your virus through the air.

Further, since wood-burning saunas only allow air in from the wood stove and out through a chimney, there is relatively little airflow. Case and point, unless you have a personal sauna in your home or a solo infrared sauna, think twice before using a public sauna with a cold. And don’t even try wearing a mask in the sauna; you’ll regret it instantly.

Stay Hydrated

The most important tip for both sauna use and getting over a cold is staying hydrated. When getting over a cold, the body uses much more water than when you are healthy. And further, sweating in the sauna naturally consumes even more water. When using the sauna, even healthy people should consider taking water breaks if they plan on spending long amounts of time per session. If you are intent on using a sauna when sick, then it is doubly important to stay hydrated both because your body is working hard to fight off your cold and doubly because you are sweating in the sauna. Spending time in a steam room also can make you dehydrated. Even though the air is very humid, that does not help the body get hydrated. The only way to get meaningfully hydrated is to drink water often.

Conclusions on Saunas and the Common Cold

While saunas can’t help you much if you already have a cold, using a steam room can still lead to relief for specific cold symptoms. Steam rooms help clear up congestion and can make your symptoms more tolerable even after you leave the steam room. Just be confident that you pay attention to your comfort level if using a steam room with a cold. If you are feeling lightheaded, consider stepping out, getting some water and taking it easy. No sauna or steam room health benefit is more important than your immediate comfort.

Spending time in the sauna may not speed up your cold, but the health benefits from regular sauna use may help you hold off the next cold. So while people ought to think twice before using a sauna with a cold, that’s all the more reason to look forward to returning to the sauna as soon as you feel better! Your immune system strengthens after regular sauna use, so your next cold may be even more mild if you add habitual sauna use into your daily routine.

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