Sweating It Out: The Truth About Using a Sauna When Sick

Sweating It Out: The Truth About Using a Sauna When Sick

Is it safe to use a sauna when sick? This pressing concern is often on the minds of those battling colds and seeking comfort.

In this guide, we’ll dive into the scientific and medical viewpoints on the topic, explore the potential risks, and offer practical advice for anyone contemplating a sauna while feeling under the weather, without overselling its benefits.

Key Takeaways of Using a Sauna When Sick

  • Saunas, especially infrared ones, can provide temporary relief from cold symptoms by soothing mucous membranes, breaking up phlegm, and raising body temperature, potentially aiding in faster recovery.
  • Regular sauna use may bolster the immune system by increasing white blood cell count and activating heat shock proteins, contributing to improved overall health and resilience against illness.
  • While saunas offer health benefits, it’s crucial to prioritize hydration, limit session durations, and avoid sauna use with certain illnesses or without medical clearance to ensure safety and prevent worsening of symptoms.

Navigating the Heat: Can Saunas Alleviate Cold Symptoms?

Picture this: you’re huddled in a cozy sauna cabin, surrounded by soothing warmth. It’s tempting to believe that the enveloping heat could melt away your pesky cold symptoms. 

In fact, many proponents of regular sauna bathing suggest that sauna sessions might provide some relief from a stuffy nose and other cold-related discomforts.

However, the waters are murky when it comes to the effectiveness of treating cold symptoms with sauna use. Despite the alluring promise of sauna-induced relief, medical opinions remain divided.

As with many things in life, caution is key, especially when feeling unwell. Maintaining hydration and monitoring your body’s reaction to the heat are crucial when using a sauna while ill.

Navigating the Heat: Can Saunas Alleviate Cold Symptoms?

The Impact of Inhaling Hot Air

Breathing in the hot air of a sauna, be it a traditional hot steam sauna or an infrared sauna, can feel immensely soothing, especially when you’re battling a runny nose or a scratchy throat.

This is because the heat and steam in a sauna can soothe irritated mucous membranes, reducing the discomfort from a sore throat.

Moreover, the warm, humid air you inhale during a sauna session can help break up phlegm and clear lung airways, providing relief for chest congestion.

Sadly, these benefits are fleeting, providing momentary relief rather than a lasting cure. But hey, when you’re in the thick of a common cold, even a little respite can feel like a big win, right?

Body Temperature's Role in Recovery

Now, let’s talk about the heat. When you step into a sauna, the heat envelops you, raising your body temperature. This artificial fever can trigger the production of white blood cells and improve blood flow, which in turn aids in the recovery process and helps regulate blood pressure.

The heat from infrared saunas goes a step further. It raises the body’s core temperature, creating a hostile environment for viruses and giving the immune system a helping hand. So, while it’s not a magic bullet, the heat from sauna sessions could potentially speed up recovery time.

The Immune System's Response to Sauna Heat

The immune system, acting as our personal army, defends our body against disease-causing microorganisms, ever ready to combat invading pathogens.

Saunas, in particular infrared saunas, have been shown to support this army, aiding the immune system with building blocks and promoting acceleration of immune and cardiovascular systems.

Regular sauna use can lead to:

  • Improved cardiovascular function
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Enhanced detoxification
  • Stress reduction

All these benefits work in tandem to strengthen the immune system. So, while saunas may not be the silver bullet for common colds, they can certainly play a supportive role in your body’s fight against illness.

Sauna Sessions and White Blood Cell Activation

You might wonder, how do sauna sessions bolster the immune system? Well, it’s all about the white blood cells, the heroes of our immune system. These cells are our body’s first line of defense against infections.

Heat exposure during sauna sessions can stimulate the production of white blood cells, fortifying the body’s defense against infections.

In fact, a study showed that a 15-minute sauna session could increase the white blood cell count, playing a critical role in the immune system’s defense against pathogens.

Sauna Sessions and White Blood Cell Activation

Heat Shock Proteins: Allies in Immune Function

Ever heard of heat shock proteins? They’re like the unsung heroes of our body’s cells. These proteins are activated when the body is exposed to high temperatures, such as in a sauna session, and they trigger a protective response in cells.

During a sauna session, the following benefits occur:

  • Heat shock proteins are expressed within cells, helping to stabilize cell components and boosting the immune response
  • Heat shock proteins aid in the synthesis of proteins necessary for new muscle tissue
  • Heat shock proteins help direct nutrients to areas of muscle damage

These benefits contribute to overall muscle recovery and growth.

Steam Room vs. Infrared Sauna: A Comparative Look

Steam Room vs. Infrared Sauna: A Comparative Look

You may be curious about the distinction between traditional steam saunas and infrared saunas. Truth be told, each has its unique benefits. 

Traditional saunas heat a stack of rocks to flood the room with heat, while infrared saunas deliver heat that penetrates deeper into muscle tissues and joints, offering benefits such as detoxification, skin rejuvenation, improved cardiovascular health, and boosted mood.

On the other hand, steam rooms provide a high humidity environment that can soothe the respiratory system and help alleviate the symptoms of colds or allergies. 

So, choosing between a steam room or infrared sauna largely depends on your individual preferences and wellness goals.

Efficacy of Steam Inhalation

Steam inhalation can do wonders to relieve cold symptoms. When you sit in a steam room and inhale the moist, warm air, it reaches deep into your lungs, helping to flush out mucus and respiratory system debris. The heat and humidity in a sauna also act as a potent expectorant, which can help with the expulsion of excessive phlegm and the reduction of inflammation.

Steam inhalation has several benefits, including:

  • Softening nasal membranes
  • Promoting sinus drainage and clearing of mucus
  • Soothing the throat
  • Enhancing blood circulation in nasal passages

However, it’s important to follow the proper steam inhalation technique to avoid burns.

Infrared Sauna: Gentle Heat for Symptom Relief?

Infrared saunas, on the other hand, offer a more gentle heat experience. This type of sauna has been proven to be beneficial to health in a number of ways. By detoxifying the body through hyperthermia and aiding respiratory function, infrared saunas help combat common cold symptoms.

The gentle heat of infrared saunas is also effective in reducing inflammation and improving circulation. These benefits may help reduce pain and speed recovery when feeling unwell, without overwhelming the body with high temperatures.

Sauna Safety: Guidelines for the Unwell

Despite these points, remember that general advice discourages sauna use when sick. As tempting as it may be to sweat it out in the hopes of a faster recovery, those who are currently ill should avoid sauna use until they have fully recovered or have received medical clearance to do so.

Also, it’s essential to prevent dehydration during sauna use. This can be achieved by drinking water before, during, and after a sauna session. Moreover, it’s recommended to limit sauna time to 15-20 minutes when treating cold symptoms to avoid undue stress on the body.

Hydration is Key

Hydration is a key factor when using a sauna, especially when you’re sick. The high temperatures in a sauna can cause your body to sweat profusely, leading to loss of fluids. This can exacerbate dehydration, which can in turn worsen symptoms and slow down recovery.

To counteract this, it’s crucial to drink plenty of water before, during, and after a sauna session. In fact, you should aim to drink approximately two to four glasses of water after a sauna session to replenish lost fluids.

Time Matters: Setting Safe Limits

As with many things in life, when it comes to sauna sessions, moderation is key. Spending too much time in a sauna can place excessive stress on the body, potentially leading to dizziness and worsening symptoms due to prolonged heat exposure.

Consequently, it’s advisable to cap sauna sessions at 15 to 20 minutes, particularly when ill. If you’re new to sauna use, start with shorter sessions of 5 to 10 minutes and gradually increase the duration as your body adapts.

When to Skip the Sauna

Although saunas provide numerous health benefits, there are times when avoiding the sauna is the best option. For instance, if you’re experiencing flu symptoms, using a sauna can lead to dehydration and additional heat stress, potentially worsening symptoms.

Moreover, individuals with health conditions such as:

  • asthma
  • sensitive skin
  • allergies to essential oils
  • cardiovascular conditions
  • heart issues

should seek medical advice before using a sauna. Remember, your health comes first. If your body is telling you to rest, listen to it.

Enhancing the Sauna Experience for Better Health

Enhancing the Sauna Experience for Better Health

What about those who aren’t ill but aim to optimize the health benefits of their sauna sessions? Well, there are a few additional techniques that can enhance the sauna experience. Integrating halotherapy with heat treatment in saunas can stimulate the respiratory system, lessen inflammation, combat infections and alleviate discomfort.

Additionally, sauna sessions can significantly improve sleep. This is achieved by deliberately increasing body temperature, followed by a cooling period, which sends a sleep signal to the brain. Now, who wouldn’t want a good night’s sleep?

Combining Heat with Halotherapy

Halotherapy, also known as salt therapy, involves breathing in salt particles. This can have beneficial effects on respiratory health. When combined with the heat of a sauna, fine salt particles can be dispersed in the air and inhaled, helping to cleanse the respiratory system by:

  • Attracting and removing impurities
  • Reducing inflammation in the airways
  • Loosening mucus and phlegm
  • Promoting better breathing
  • Alleviating symptoms of respiratory conditions such as asthma, allergies, and bronchitis

Heat combined with halotherapy offers numerous benefits, including:

  • Improved mucus clearance
  • Strengthened immune system
  • Support in the recovery process during illness
  • Reduction of inflammation
  • Improved lung function

These benefits are complemented by the negatively charged salt particles.

Aromatherapy: Adding Comfort to Heat

Aromatherapy can be a delightful addition to your sauna sessions. Using essential oils like eucalyptus, peppermint, and lavender during a sauna session can aid in relieving cold symptoms and induce a state of relaxation.

These essential oils have properties that alleviate respiratory issues, reduce stress, and promote relaxation. The high temperatures in a sauna amplify the therapeutic effects of these oils by boosting their dispersion and inhalation rate.


In conclusion, while saunas can offer temporary relief from cold symptoms, it’s essential to use them cautiously, especially when you’re feeling unwell. Hydration and setting safe time limits are key when using a sauna while sick. 

Additionally, enhancing the sauna experience with halotherapy or aromatherapy can provide additional health benefits. However, remember that sauna use should not replace professional medical advice or treatment. Always listen to your body and consult with a healthcare professional if you’re unsure.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can using a sauna while sick help alleviate cold symptoms?

Using a sauna while sick can provide temporary relief from symptoms like a stuffy nose or chest congestion, but it's not a long-term solution for the common cold or flu.

How can sauna sessions benefit the immune system?

Sauna sessions can benefit the immune system by increasing the production of white blood cells and activating heat shock proteins to boost immune response. So, enjoying regular sauna sessions can help you stay healthier and ward off infections.

What is the difference between a steam sauna and an infrared sauna?

The main difference between a steam sauna and an infrared sauna is that steam saunas heat a stack of rocks to create heat, while infrared saunas deliver heat that penetrates deeper into muscle tissues and joints. So, if you're looking for deeper penetration of heat, go for an infrared sauna!

What are the safety guidelines for using a sauna while sick?

To stay safe while using a sauna when sick, remember to stay hydrated, limit sessions to 15-20 minutes, and avoid the sauna if you have severe symptoms or certain health conditions. Stay safe and take care.

How can I enhance the sauna experience for better health?

Try incorporating halotherapy or aromatherapy into your sauna sessions to improve respiratory health and promote relaxation. It can make a big difference in your overall experience and health.

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