When you catch a cold, the traditional advice is to take steam to kill the virus and recover promptly. But does steam really help cure a cold? Does a sauna help with a cold? Let’s find out.
Sweating out the cold is impossible but health experts say that engaging in a light workout and sitting inside a steamed sauna room could help in the short term by easing congestion and allowing you to breathe freely.
Long answer: Taking steam and sweating it out is said to be the best remedy for cold. It's a traditional remedy, followed by generations of people but today's scientific research is skeptical about any notion of "sweating out" cold.
Before we get into the science of sweating, let’s have a quick look at what causes cold or flu.
Table of Contents
- What Causes Cold or Flu?
- Science of Sweating Out a Cold
- Can Sweating Make Your Cold Worse?
- Is Using the Sauna Useless?
- Can Saunas Help Prevent Colds?
- Can a Sauna Kill the Flu Virus?
- Can You Sweat it Out Through Exercise Work?
- What is the Best Way to Treat Cold?
What Causes Cold or Flu?
The common cold is something everyone experiences and it’s caused by around 200 different virus strains including adenoviruses, enteroviruses, rhinoviruses, and even coronaviruses.
Since the common cold can be caused by so many different viruses, there's no vaccine for it. The usual way of treating common is by using antibiotics.
The flu (also called influenza) is a disease caused by the influenza virus. It's not the same as a common cold which can be caused by different virus strains like adenoviruses, enteroviruses, rhinoviruses, and even coronaviruses.
Unlike the common cold which has no vaccine, because it could be caused by so many different viruses, the flu can be cured with vaccines. So you don’t really need the sauna to cure the disease.
Science of Sweating Out a Cold
The body starts sweating when it's experiencing high temperate. It's the body's natural way to cool down. Sweat consists of mainly water and salts, carbohydrate, urea, and protein. In other words, by sweating you are not casting the virus that causes cold.
When you have a fever or catch a cold, your body may sweat naturally to cool itself down. This may make you feel better but sweating does not kill the virus. This means that sitting in the sauna to "sweat out the cold" won't work. The body doesn't work that way.
Also read: Can Sauna Cure Sinus Infection?
Can Sweating Make Your Cold Worse?
It certainly can. When you catch a cold, you lose fluids by sneezing or coughing. So it's important to keep yourself hydrated throughout the day.
If you visit the sauna, you'll end up losing more fluid due to excess sweating. This can lead to severe dehydration.
Moreover, if you don’t have a sauna at home and you are planning to use the public sauna, you are likely to spread the virus among others.
Is Using the Sauna Useless?
Not quite. Using the sauna will help open up your blocked airways making it easier for you to breathe. Sauna sessions increase white blood cells which can speed up your recovery process.
Can Saunas Help Prevent Colds?
There is no evidence on whether saunas will help you prevent colds. But science does seem to support the idea that using the sauna regularly can reduce the chances of catching a cold. In one study, a group of 50 people was split into two groups.
One group was told to visit the sauna regularly and the other group was told to abstain. At the end of this 6 months study, scientists found that the sauna group contracted fewer common colds.
Can a Sauna Kill the Flu Virus?
No sauna cannot kill the flu virus. The claim that sauna sessions can kill viruses probably originates from studies like the one conducted in 2015.
In a particular study, In this study, scientists decided to observe how rhinovirus, one of the most common causes of colds, functions in mice at different temperatures. It found that in temperatures below 37°C (98.6°F) the virus was thriving which lead people to believe that the virus can be killed in higher temperatures. But the assumption is yet to be proven.
Can You Sweat it Out Through Exercise Work?
Light exercise can release endorphins which make you feel better but it's not a cure for the cold. Sweating in the gym won’t help you recover faster. In fact, if you have a severe cold or fever, hitting the gym will make you feel worse and delay the recovery process. It’s better to take a few days off rest if you have a severe cold.
Also read: Is a Sauna Good for COVID-19?
What is the Best Way to Treat Cold?
The following tips will help you recover from a common cold:
- Rest as much as possible! Lie in bed for as long as you can and get no less than 8-10 hours of sleep
- Drink a ton of water because you’ll be losing a lot of fluid by sneezing or coughing
- Besides water, you can drink hot tea and broth to soothe your throat and reduce pain and swelling
- Gargle with saltwater to soothe your throat and relieve congestion
- Get a humidifier to moist the air to clear nasal passages
- Buy over-the-counter medications and make sure you follow the dosage properly
Is the Sauna Good for Your Lungs?
The sauna can be good for your lungs. Several studies suggested that sauna usage has improved lung functions. Some found that it reduced the risk of pneumonia, and others found that it improved breathing in patients with chronic bronchitis and asthma. But researchers are still unclear about the associations between sauna and the health of your lung. So one can't say for sure that using the sauna improves one’s lungs.
Can You Sauna With a Cough?
Constant coughing irritates your throat. Steam from the sauna can moisturize dry air passages, loosen mucus buildup and relieve irritation. That said, it's best to talk to a consultant before using the sauna to treat coughing.
Can You Sauna With a Fever?
Going to the sauna with a fever is not a good idea and you may end up feeling sicker. When you have a fever, your body is working overtime to get better. If you step inside the sauna, your body will have to work even harder and it will exhaust itself. Moreover, if you have a viral fever it can spread from one person to another through close contact.
Can You Sauna With Stomach Bugs or Other Viruses?
There is very little research on whether using the sauna when you have viral gastroenteritis (the stomach flu) will make you feel better. But stomach viruses often cause vomiting, fever, and diarrhea. Exposure to high temperatures is most likely going to make things worse. So we don’t recommend using the sauna when you have stomach bugs.
The sauna will not help you recover from a cold. In fact, it can make things worse.
If you don’t have a severe cold, you may try going to the sauna. And if the visit makes you feel better, then go for it but don’t overdo it. If you are sick, it’s better to take some time off and rest.
(Feature image by dianakuehn30010 from Pixabay)