Sometimes, it feels like nothing will make you feel better when you’re battling a common illness. Can visiting a sauna when you’re sick help with colds, coughs, the flu, or a fever?
Research shows that steam saunas are an appropriate remedy for lessening symptoms like headaches, stuffy nose, sore throat, breathing problems, and coughing. Additionally, they can reduce the incidence of respiratory illnesses in the future. Avoid using any sauna if you have the flu or a fever, as elevated temperatures can worsen these ailments.
Keep reading to learn if a sauna can help while you’re sick, which type of sauna provides the most relief, and if the environment inside of a sauna helps to alleviate symptoms of the flu or other viruses.
Can the sauna help you when you’re sick?
If you’re sick, can the sauna help recover faster or even just make you feel better?
Sitting in the sauna when you’re sick can help improve symptoms by releasing endorphins, opening airways, promoting respiratory drainage, and enhancing blood flow. However, it’s important to avoid the sauna if you’re severely ill or are running a high fever, as these conditions can be exacerbated by high temperatures.
Sauna exposure, in general, releases Dopamine and Beta-Endorphin, both of which combat low energy and the body aches associated with being sick. The added humidity of a traditional or steam sauna does a great job of dilating your airways and helping to drain mucus buildup that contributes to congestion (a symptom of the common cold).
A sauna can also increase arterial blood flow, allowing for more white blood cells to be transported throughout the body for quicker healing. Additionally, good circulation is pivotal for detoxifying waste. All of these factors contribute to improving one’s immune system function.
Overall, whether or not it’s advised to use the sauna when you’re sick depends on the type of illness you have.
Steam saunas are great for alleviating coughs and symptoms of the common cold. It’s recommended to avoid using any type of sauna when you have the flu, stomach bug, or are experiencing a fever, as detrimental side effects can occur.
According to a 1990 study, participants that sauna bathed experienced significantly fewer colds in 6 months than the participants that did not. From this research, we can conclude that using a sauna decreases your likelihood of contracting the common cold.
In another study conducted in 2017, regular sauna exposure also reduced the incidence of pneumonia in middle-aged Caucasian men.
Caution: Going to the sauna is not intended to be used in lieu of actual medical treatment. Always consult your physician first before attempting to use the sauna while you’re sick.
It’s also important to note that we’re talking about symptoms of common illnesses, like the stomach bug, that would likely resolve themselves with time.
What kind of sauna is best when sick?
Saunas come in three general forms: traditional, infrared, and steam. Which one provides the best relief for typical illness symptoms?
Steam saunas are the best choice for the relief of cold symptoms. They operate at lower temperatures than other saunas (around 115°F) while still providing enough moisture to reduce your symptoms.
Traditional saunas will feel too hot, and the dry heat of an infrared sauna could be irritating to your throat and lungs.
Traditional dry sauna
Traditional saunas are by far the hottest but most commonly accessible type of sauna.
It’s necessary to mention that if you’re feeling sick, it’s best to use a personal or at-home sauna versus one that’s open to the public to limit the spread of germs.
While traditional saunas aren’t the best option for relieving symptoms of illness, they do have some advantages.
Pros of using a traditional sauna when you’re sick include:
- Detoxification via sweat
- Boost in white blood cell count and immune system function
- Increase in blood circulation, which reduces body aches
- Decrease in pulmonary congestion
However, traditional dry saunas come with their fair share of disadvantages when it comes to using one while sick.
Cons of using a traditional sauna when you’re sick include:
- Heatstroke if not properly hydrated
- Irritation of your lungs and airways by dry heat
- Overall discomfort due to temperatures that exceed 150°F
Infrared saunas operate at temperatures between 120°F and 140°F.
They are known for having the ability to penetrate deep tissue layers and raise our body’s core temperature quickly.
Saunas that use infrared radiation aren’t nearly as hot as a traditional dry sauna, but do they have similar benefits?
Pros of using an infrared sauna when you’re sick include:
- Heat penetration that’s able to alleviate muscle soreness
- Activation of white blood cells
- Immune system strength improvement
- Killing of viruses, bacteria, and germs
- Increase in the production of heat shock proteins
Infrared saunas do have some downsides, however.
Cons of using an infrared sauna when you’re sick include:
- Not as effective as steam at relieving pulmonary congestion
- Dry heat may irritate airways and cause coughing
- Greater risk of dehydration and dizziness
- Worsening of heart conditions or severely compromised immune systems
A steam room is the best option to help diminish symptoms experienced by colds or other viruses.
The elevated levels of humidity present, as compared to the other sauna types, are especially effective at reducing sinus pressure.
Steam saunas might be your new best friends when it comes to recovering from a minor illness.
Pros of using a steam room when you’re sick include:
- The flushing of mucus from airways
- Soothing relief to irritated respiratory systems via high humidity
- A more comfortable, lower temperature versus traditional or infrared saunas
- Increased circulation and activation of white blood cells
- Immunity and energy boosting
Some of the disadvantages associated with steam saunas might surprise you.
Cons of using a steam room when you’re sick include:
- Bacterial growth due to added moisture in the air
- Risk of dehydration
- Vascular complications
Sauna when sick with a cold
Can using a sauna while you’re sick with a cold help?
Steam sauna bathing is the best remedy for cold symptoms that include headache, stuffy nose, sore throat, breathing problems, cough, and irritated nasal passageways. However, steam saunas can cause heatstroke if you haven’t hydrated properly.
Drinking enough water and adhering to your doctor’s diagnosis is a key part of feeling better.
Additionally, as we mentioned in the study above, regular sauna bathing can even prevent one from catching colds altogether.
Sauna with a cough
Coughing irritates your respiratory system and causes discomfort.
If you’re coughing, exposure to the humidity of a steam sauna can help to relieve irritation and loosen mucus buildup. A 2017 study described how steam therapy is effective at moistening dry air passages and is recommended for bronchitis, sinusitis, and other illnesses that induce coughing.
Always consult your physician before using a steam room if you have a cough, and opt for a single-person room over larger public saunas.
Is the sauna good for your lungs?
While sauna exposure can help with common sickness symptoms, is it ultimately good for your lungs?
Sauna bathing has the ability to strengthen lung function over time. Moreover, it can actually enhance breathing in people that suffer from chronic respiratory problems like asthma and allergies. If you have an acute, severe respiratory illness, avoid the sauna until your doctor clears you.
When you’re aiming to build up lung strength, start with 5 minutes of sauna exposure per session and incorporate breathing exercises, like the Wim Hof method.
Learn more about the Wim Hof method and other sauna breathing exercises in this article.
Sauna with the flu
Getting the flu is a less than enjoyable experience. Will sauna exposure help you get over it?
Symptoms of the flu often include fever, muscle aches, fatigue, and chills. The heat of a sauna can help to minimize fatigue and achiness but can be dangerous for those experiencing a fever. For this reason, you should avoid using all types of saunas while sick with the flu.
If your fever has broken, you may be able to indulge in a quick sauna visit – just make sure a primary care physician has okay-ed this practice first.
Can you sweat out the flu?
Similar to how you would sweat out toxins, can you actually sweat out the flu?
Attempting to “sweat out” your flu could make matters worse. When you sit in the sauna, your body loses fluids and electrolytes – both of which are necessary for the recovery process. Besides, elevating your temperature further will only make your symptoms more severe.
Instead of visiting the sauna, rest, hydrate, and follow real medical recommendations if you have the flu. Using a humidifier is a safer alternative.
Sauna with a fever
Is the sauna a good remedy when you have a fever?
If you have a fever, never use any type of sauna. Fevers create stress on our bodies, and we need to give our immune system the best possible chance at recovering. Raising our core temperature further can lead to serious complications, such as myocarditis or arrhythmia.
It’s also important to consider those around you. Would you want to be sauna bathing next to someone who’s contagious?
Sauna with stomach bugs or other viruses
There’s little research when it comes to using the sauna when you have a stomach bug or other viruses.
Overall, viral gastroenteritis (the stomach flu) causes symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. Exposing yourself to high temperatures can make you more nauseous and therefore induce more vomiting and diarrhea. This is why you should steer clear of saunas while experiencing a stomach virus.
The best treatment for the stomach bug includes chewing on ice chips to reduce nausea, getting lots of rest, and sticking to the BRAT diet.