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Can Saunas Treat The Common Cold?

Whether saunas can help with the common cold or not is a source of debate. Some people swear by taking a sauna after getting sick as an effective and healthy way to manage the symptoms, while others claim that it's too hard on their body when other options are available. But because there isn't much scientific research on this topic, it's difficult to investigate whether or not a sauna can help you recover from certain illnesses faster than other methods.


Nevertheless, this article will take a look at what we do know about using saunas for cold prevention and how well they actually work in doing so. We will also look to give you advice on how to find the best sauna for your needs, so you can get the maximum benefit from your time in a sauna.

 

Can Saunas Treat The Common Cold?


Remember though, as always this article should not be taken as strict medical advice and is for informational purposes only. We strongly recommend that you consult with your health care practitioner before conducting regular sauna use, particularly if you are suffering from an illness.



So What Is The Common Cold?


So first, let's take a look at what's going on with your body when you catch the common cold. We’ve all had them, and none of us like them. But what are they and how do we get them? 


A cold as we know it is simply a virus. The most common culprits are rhinoviruses and coronaviruses which cause symptoms such as sore throats, runny noses, nasal congestion, sneezing, and coughing, among others. If you are suffering from a fever or extreme exhaustion then you may be looking at influenza. Regardless, the cold virus primarily enters your system via your upper respiratory systems (i.e. mouth and nose), but can also enter via your eyes. The virus then replicates and infects your body, which will produce symptoms as a means of fighting the virus.


It can be spread from hand-to-hand contact, sharing of contaminated objects (such as sharing glasses, utensils etc.), and can be transmitted via coughing or sneezing if in close proximity. The idea that you can catch the common cold as a result of being in a cooler climate without sufficient clothing and layers has become widespread, but this is most likely to be a myth. The myth may have been born out of a misunderstanding in that the rhinoviruses preferentially replicate in lower ambient temperatures in the range of 89 °F, which is lower than the body’s regulated temperature of 98 °F.


Do Saunas Treat A Cold?


So now we know what the common cold really is, let’s get back to the question at hand: can saunas really help with the common cold? The simple answer is that sauna use sadly cannot treat a common cold per se, however it may help to temporarily alleviate some symptoms. Additionally, while a sauna may not produce any significant positive effects against the cold, nor will it produce any negative effects, according to Pach et al. 


Although, it is common to inhale steam when one has a cold, which has shown to alleviate congestion as the steam thins the mucus which helps it to drain. This is why it is somewhat common to fill a bowl with hot water, and to breathe in the steam. A similar effect can be achieved using a steam room or sauna, particularly when you produce that lovely löyly. This alleviation is temporary however, so do keep that in mind as you may feel congested again later in the day.


So if you’d like to alleviate those symptoms and “sweat out” the virus, you could:


  • Inhale warm steam
  • Bathe in a sauna or steam room
  • Conduct some light exercise

Although, we’d urge you to err on the side of caution if you’d like to exercise, and do not overexert yourself.

 

Can Saunas Treat The Common Cold?


How To Sauna Bathe With A Cold?


So if you do decide to bathe in a sauna to alleviate your symptoms, here are some helpful tips to make sure that you don’t over do it:


  • Strictly limit your time to just 15 minutes.
  • Drink plenty of water before entering the sauna; you want to be as well hydrated as possible.
  • Avoid overly salty food and drink- much to the same vein as drinking plenty of water, you are going to want to be as well hydrated as possible.
  • Drink 2 glasses of water after leaving the sauna to replenish the water lost through sweat.
  • Avoid cold plunges and showers.
  • Be mindful of how you feel. Do not stay in the sauna just to fulfill the 15 minutes if you feel too unwell.

It is crucial that you do not place your body under further, unnecessary stress. When sick, you want to recover and to aid your body as best you can. 

 

Can Saunas Prevent A Cold?


While saunas may not help to significantly treat colds, some studies have suggested that they can help to prevent them instead, which is great news if you’re a regular bather (and why wouldn’t you be?). Ernst et al. conducted a study on 25 adult volunteers over a period of 6 months which found that there were significantly fewer episodes of the common cold within the control group after controlled, regular sauna bathing; particularly in the last three months of the study. 



How To Avoid A Common Cold


But even if you can't cure yourself with a sauna, there are still some things you can do to make sure you're not getting sick in the first place. Making a conscious effort to stay clean and avoid germs will help protect your body from sickness in as many ways as possible.


Here are some things you can do to help avoid the common cold!

 

  • Wash your hands thoroughly whenever you come in contact with someone else's germs.
  • Use tissues when coughing and sneezing. Once used, discard the tissues and wash your hands as suggested above.
  • Avoid sharing utensils and glasses with anybody who is showing symptoms of the common cold.
  • Keep your domicile clean by disinfecting surfaces and door handles when somebody in your household has been sick.
  • Be mindful of your health and fitness. A good, nutritional diet full of vitamins paired with plenty of activity can do wonders for how you feel, and in strengthening your immune system.
  • Try sauna bathing regularly. As mentioned above, evidence has shown that saunas may help prevent catching the common cold, so why not give it a go?


Conclusion


So there you have it. The science sadly does not show that sauna use can treat the common cold, but it might help prevent you from catching it in the first place! The science to date is still somewhat limited on this, so we wouldn’t recommend that you take this as gospel. Nevertheless, with all the other benefits that saunas provide, it is surely worth trying out a regular routine. But remember- if you are sick, do be careful and consult with your doctor before using a sauna. 


Stay well, and stay safe!






References


Ernst E, Pecho E, Wirz P, Saradeth T. Regular sauna bathing and the incidence of common colds. Ann Med. 1990;22(4):225-7. doi: 10.3109/07853899009148930. PMID: 2248758. 


Lassi A. Liikkanen, Jari A. Laukkanen. (2020) Sauna bathing frequency in Finland and the impact of COVID-19. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, pages 102594.


Francisco E. Ramirez, Albert Sanchez, Aki T. Pirskanen. (2021) Hydrothermotherapy in prevention and treatment of mild to moderate cases of COVID-19. Medical Hypotheses 146, pages 110363.


Ilkka Heinonen, Jari A. Laukkanen. (2018) Effects of heat and cold on health, with special reference to Finnish sauna bathing. American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology 314:5, pages R629-R638.


Jari A. Laukkanen, Tanjaniina Laukkanen. (2018) Sauna bathing and systemic inflammation. European Journal of Epidemiology 33:3, pages 351-353.


Pach D, Knöchel B, Lüdtke R, Wruck K, Willich S. N, and Witt C. M. Visiting a sauna: does inhaling hot dry air reduce common cold symptoms? A randomised controlled trial. Med J Aust 2010; 193 (11): 730-734. || doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2010.tb04127.x


Singh  M, Singh  M, Jaiswal  N, Chauhan  A. Heated, humidified air for the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2017, Issue 8. Art. No.: CD001728. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001728.pub6


Fashner J, Ericson K, Werner S. Treatment of the common cold in children and adults. Am Fam Physician. 2012 Jul 15;86(2):153-9. PMID: 22962927.


Olsson B. Bastubad kan vara bra vid ett antal sjukdomar – men fler studier krävs - Det vetenskapliga underlaget ännu inte tillräckligt för allmänna rekommendationer [Medical aspects on sauna bathing]. Lakartidningen. 2018 Dec 18;115:FDL7. Swedish. PMID: 30561752.


Ernst E. "Abhärtung gegen Erkältung"--ist das möglich? [Hardening against the common cold--is it possible?]. Fortschr Med. 1990 Oct 30;108(31):586-8. German. PMID: 2258128.


Pasek J, Cieślar G, Szajkowski S, Jagodziński L, Sieroń A. Zmiany wybranych parametrów fizjologicznych u młodych zdrowych osób pod wpływem zabiegu sauny fińskiej [Changes of chosen physiological parameters in young healthy persons after sauna bathing procedures]. Pol Merkur Lekarski. 2016 May;40(239):295-7. Polish. PMID: 27234859.

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