You may have heard about saunas can make you healthier and may even be considered a treatment for the common cold, but do you believe this? In this article, we will go through the different types of saunas and their benefits and differences, what science says about their healing and illness-prevention abilities, and about other proven health benefits of regular sauna bathing.
About the common cold
The common cold is something almost all of us have to go through every once in a while, and although typically they are not dangerous or lead to any long-term consequences, they can significantly affect our overall well-being and energy levels for a few days. They typically last 1-2 weeks and include symptoms such as having a runny nose or sore throat, sneezing, or having an increased temperature.
The typical recommendations for treating a common cold are to rest, drink plenty of fluids, keep warm and reach out to a pharmacist for medicines such as nasal sprays. There are also some less conventional recommendations such as drinking and eating some specific beverages and foods and consuming higher quantities of vitamins such as vitamin C.
Other treatments which are known for having multiple health benefits are sauna treatments. But which treatment exactly, and are they beneficial? Let's have a look.
Colds and saunas
Types of saunas
There are many different types of saunas and finding out specifically which one is what, and how they affect your body can help you decide how they could be beneficial to you.
Steam saunas produce an air of almost 100% humidity. For reference, UK city councils recommend that a humidity of between 30-60% is recommended for indoor spaces for everyday living.1
This high level of humidity makes you feel the heat more easily, which is why steam saunas are typically cooler than other saunas. Typically a steam room session will last 10-20 minutes at around 43 degC and may be repeated a few times depending on the person.2 They are considered to be good options for people who suffer from respiratory issues or dry skin, as it can effectively soothe respiratory tracts and hydrate skin. More than other saunas, steam saunas are considered to be especially good at clearing the throat, sinus and lung congestion, and offering relief of dry throat and nasal passages and the discomfort of sinusitis.4
Dry saunas, as the name suggests, have much lower moisture content in the air, where the humidity is between 5-10%.5
The temperature in dry sauna rooms depends on how long someone will be in the room. This may be 80degC for 5-6 minutes or even 180degC for 3-4 minutes.6 Dry saunas are recommended for people who prefer the feeling of dry air, and those who desire health benefits that come from sweating, as compared to wet saunas, dry saunas encourage sweating.7
Wet and dry saunas are considered to be the traditional Finish saunas. More modern types of saunas are infrared saunas. They use infrared radiation to warm up the user, and since infrared uses waves to reach the object, they will warm, and not air like Finnish saunas, the temperature of the room remains relatively low. This is around 40-55 degrees and the duration of a session can be anywhere between 15-40 minutes.8 These saunas are specifically good at achieving a process called “vasodilation”, which is where blood vessels open up and the body is warmed up.9
This process itself encourages body regeneration and detoxification.
Can saunas cure colds?
Sauna's abilities to cure colds have been a topic of interest for many years. Surprisingly for many, studies suggest that saunas have no significant positive impact on curing a cold. Instead, they may lead to dehydration and burns if used inappropriately. Hydration is very important in recovery from colds, so it is extremely important to ensure sufficient hydration especially if the person is undergoing sauna treatment.
Although saunas are unable to cure colds, inhaling warm and humid air (such as that in wet saunas and steam rooms) can help clear respiratory tracts by breaking down phlegm. Hence saunas can be used as chest congestion treatment.10,11
Its worth noting that although these studies have concluded no significant impact of saunas curing colds, they have data which shows that the experience of being in the sauna itself had been relaxing and pleasant and helped relieve some symptoms like headache. This proves that although saunas don’t cure colds, they can offer short-term relief from some symptoms.
Can saunas help prevent colds?
It has been proven that saunas can help detox the user's lymphatic system, which in turn helps strengthen their immune system. This happens by the increased temperature resulting in an artificial fever being made, which in turn leads to a greater activation of the immune system. The heat also increases the heart rate leads to increased blood flow through the body, which can accelerate regeneration through more oxygen and nutrients reaching important parts of your body. This can help fight the germs which may lead to illness, and subsequently help prevents a cold.
Health benefits of saunas
There are many health befefits of saunas. They include:
- Improved cardiovascular function and lowering of systemic blood pressure
- Decreased risk of stroke, neurocognitive diseases, nonvascular conditions such as pulmonary diseases and others
- Beneficial treatment of specific skin conditions
- Lowering pain in conditions such as rheumatic diseases and headache
- Strengthening the immune system
- A relaxing experience
Saunas have proved to be more than just a warm place for us to go to relax. There are many health benefits, and although there is no evidence to prove that saunas can cure colds, they have proven to help prevent them by strengthening the users immune system. This may be your sign to try this treatment if you haven’t already!
- Council, Oxford City. Preventing Damp and Mould. https://www.oxford.gov.uk/info/20271/guidance_for_private_tenants/1129/preventing_damp_and_mould. Accessed 24 June 2022.
- “How the Sauna and Steam Room Can Help Your Health.” YMCA of Middle Tennessee, https://www.ymcamidtn.org/health-and-fitness/articles/how-sauna-and-steam-room-can-help-your-health. Accessed 24 June 2022.
- “Sauna vs. Steam Room.” Aegean Spas, London, UK, 28 Jan. 2019, https://www.aegeanspas.co.uk/blog/sauna-vs-steam-room/.
- Sauna vs Steam Room | Blog | Spa Experience. https://www.spaexperience.org.uk/about/blog/sauna-vs-steam-room. Accessed 24 June 2022.
- SPA, KLAFS |. MY SAUNA AND. Humidity. https://www.klafs.com/health/abc-of-well-being/h/humidity.html. Accessed 24 June 2022.
- “Who, What, Why: How Hot Can a Sauna Safely Get?” BBC News, 9 Aug. 2010. www.bbc.co.uk, https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-10912578.
- Pirie, Kaitlyn. “Taking Advantage of the Sauna at Your Gym Could Help Improve Your Overall Health.” Good Housekeeping, 3 Mar. 2020, https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/fitness/a31196789/steam-room-vs-sauna/.
- Liam. “What’s the Best Infrared Sauna Temperature?” Rimba Sweat, 7 June 2021, https://rimbasweat.com.au/blog/best-infrared-sauna-temperature/.
- “Infrared Saunas: 9 Health Benefits You Can’t Pass Up.” Chiropractic Economics, 17 Apr. 2018, https://www.chiroeco.com/benefits-of-infrared-saunas/.
- “How To Use A Sauna For A Cold.” Clearlight Infrared SaunasTM, https://www.infraredsauna.co.uk/blog/how-to-use-a-sauna-for-a-cold. Accessed 24 June 2022.11 Pach, Daniel, et al. “Visiting a Sauna: Does Inhaling Hot Dry Air Reduce Common Cold Symptoms? A Randomised Controlled Trial.” Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 193, no. 11, Dec. 2010. eMJA, https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2010/193/11/visiting-sauna-does-inhaling-hot-dry-air-reduce-common-cold-symptoms-randomised.