Are Saunas Good for Your Lungs and Respiratory Health?

There is some research to support certain health benefits of saunas, including improved lung function. However, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of saunas as a treatment for certain conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

This article explains the general effects of saunas, how they affect lung health, and how to stay safe while using a sauna.

Types of saunas

Saunas are called whole body hyperthermia or hyperthermia. It is used in different forms in different parts of the world.

What is hyperthermia?

Hyperthermia or “hyperthermia” uses heat to treat symptoms.

Saunas have long been used for hygiene, wellness, social and spiritual purposes. There are several different types of saunas.

modern sauna

The modern sauna follows the tradition of the Finnish sauna. These saunas have dry air with humidity ranging from 10% to 20%.

Humidity increases and temperatures range from 176 to 212 degrees. Other styles include Turkish-style hammams and Russian Banya.

infrared sauna

Infrared saunas are dry heat saunas. Its temperature range is between 113 and 140 degrees.

Different types of saunas can be distinguished based on humidity, heat source and architectural style.

Sauna and Lung Health

A 2018 review of several studies, published in Mayo Clinic Litigation, suggesting that sauna use may improve lung function. The review found that saunas improved breathing, forced expiratory volume (how much air can be released during forced breathing), and vital capacity (the maximum amount of air that can be exhaled after taking in the maximum amount of air).

In the review, a study of 12 male participants with obstructive pulmonary disease concluded that sauna use can temporarily improve lung function. Another study found that sauna bathing improved breathing in people with asthma or chronic bronchitis. Other research has linked frequent sauna use with a lower risk of pneumonia.

Still, scientists are still unclear about the link between health benefits and sauna use. Therefore, the evidence for the effectiveness of sauna therapy in relieving certain respiratory symptoms is considered inconclusive.

acute respiratory symptoms

While inconclusive, some research suggests that saunas can help relieve symptoms of allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and mild upper respiratory tract infections.

In one study, people diagnosed with allergic rhinitis were randomly assigned to two groups. One group was educated about their condition, but otherwise lived as usual. Another received a 30-minute sauna session three days a week for six weeks.

Both groups were tested at the start and again at three and six weeks. Compared with the education group, the treatment group had a greater improvement in peak nasal inspiratory flow (a measure of nasal airflow during maximal inspiration).

The study also looked at the potential of using saunas to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

A brief review published early in the COVID-19 pandemic looked at the effects of heat on other coronaviruses, including those that cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS-CoV). Under laboratory conditions, the infectivity of the coronavirus can be reduced by 99.99% or more, even at temperatures lower than that of a traditional sauna:

  • SARS-CoV 140 degrees for 30 minutes
  • SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV 149 degrees 15 minutes

Heat is one of the oldest and most common methods of destroying disease-causing organisms. Although heat has a long history as a treatment, further research is needed to determine whether it can inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19, and if so, at what specific temperatures and times.

chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Some studies have found that saunas may help lung capacity and airway obstruction in people with COPD.

In one study, researchers assessed whether repeated hyperthermia helped patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. This includes sitting in a 140-degree sauna for 15 minutes, then sitting in a warm blanket for 30 minutes once a day. Participants did this five days a week for a total of 20 repetitions. Participants also received usual care, including medication.

To fairly compare the effects of hyperthermia, another group of participants received only conventional therapy.

After 4 weeks, the changes in vital capacity and forced expiratory volume were significantly greater in the heat treatment group than in the other group.

Although more research is needed, this study suggests that repeating hyperthermia in COPD patients may improve their airway obstruction.

asthma

Recent research is lacking, but older research suggests that sauna use is safe for people with asthma.

In addition, a 2017 study of middle-aged white men showed that regular sauna use reduced acute and chronic respiratory diseases in this population, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, and pneumonia.

Sauna use two or three times a week was associated with a lower risk of respiratory disease compared with sauna use once or less per week. Using a sauna four or more times a week was associated with a lower risk.

However, limitations in the study design meant that there was insufficient evidence that sauna use was beneficial in preventing respiratory disease.

review

There is limited evidence that saunas can treat lung disease. However, several small studies suggest that saunas may benefit people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, pneumonia, allergies and even COVID-19. Further research is required.

Other possible health benefits

There are several other general health-related reasons people use saunas, including:

  • relaxation
  • skin regeneration
  • Anti-aging benefits
  • stress reliever
  • increased metabolism
  • lose weight
  • Improve immune function
  • improve sleeping
  • detox

While these are common reasons for sauna use, some require more medical research to fully back them up.

As for more specific medical benefits, some studies have found that saunas are good for heart health. For example, a study of middle-aged men concluded that frequent sauna use was associated with a substantial reduction in fatal cardiovascular disease.

risk

Overall, saunas are safe for most people. However, if you have certain medical conditions, you should avoid saunas.

For example, people with kidney disease, pregnancy, recent heart attack, unstable angina (chest pain), or severe aortic stenosis (narrowing of the large arteries in the heart) should avoid saunas.

Concerns about sauna use include:

  • Dehydration: During a sauna, the average person will expel a pint of sweat through their pores. This releases toxins, but the lost water needs to be replenished to avoid dehydration.
  • Blood pressure changes: During the sauna, blood pressure can rise or fall, and the pulse can beat by 30% or more. This doubles the amount of blood the heart pumps every minute. So if you have heart disease, it’s important to talk to a health care professional before going to the sauna.

Does Sauna Kill Sperm?

Frequent sauna use may affect spermatogenesis, the origin and development of sperm cells. Therefore, men with testicles who are actively pursuing their parents may wish to avoid frequent sauna use.

Precautions and Safety

If your doctor says you can use a sauna, keep the following precautions and safety measures in mind:

  • Limit your time: Limit your sauna usage to 20 minutes. For first-time users, just five minutes is enough. It is important to understand how the body responds to the sauna environment.
  • Hydrate: Drink two to four glasses of water after using the sauna. It is also okay to drink water in the sauna.
  • Supervising Children: Children should always be supervised in the sauna, as some may experience symptoms such as dizziness.
  • Avoid cold showers afterwards: This may increase the risk of cardiac events in people with heart disease.
  • Avoid alcohol: Alcohol promotes dehydration and increases the risk of cardiac arrhythmias, low blood pressure, and sudden death. Avoid alcohol before and immediately after use.

generalize

Saunas are often used to reduce stress, relax and detox the body. Some evidence suggests that they may also provide some other health benefits.

Limited research suggests that saunas can support people with acute and chronic lung disease. However, more research is needed to confirm these findings.

Although saunas offer therapeutic benefits, they also carry certain risks, such as dehydration and changes in blood pressure. If you have any medical conditions, especially heart disease or chronic respiratory disease, it’s important to talk with your healthcare provider before using a sauna.

VigorTip words

When using a sauna, it is important to take all necessary precautions to ensure safety. While it has overall health benefits, don’t use a sauna as a substitute for any standard medical treatment.