Saunas have been used in various parts of the world for centuries to provide a range of benefits to both your health and well-being. They are particularly popular in places like Scandinavia, where they are seen as beneficial for virtually anything that life can throw at you.
Over the years, many people will have also heard of the idea of trying to “sweat it out” to rid your body of toxins and diseases when you are sick. Understandably then, many people have begun to link sweating it out and saunas and come to the belief that it must be a great way to overcome an illness.
Is that really how it works though? Is it even safe to sauna when sick? Well, that is just what we aim to find out in today’s article. We will examine if you should use a sauna when sick and provide all you need to know about both the benefits and risks, to help you make a decision for yourself.
Health Benefits Of Using Saunas
There is an extensive and varied list of proven benefits linked to the use of a sauna. The research shows that the more frequent and extended your use of a sauna is, the greater the benefits will be when compared to people who only use them on occasion.
Among the top benefits of a sauna are a boost to brain health and function, blood flow, circulation, respiratory function, and heart health, speeding up recovery after exercise, relieving stress, fighting illness and expelling toxins, and promoting better sleep, health, wellness, and physical performance.
However, there are a few benefits of saunas that are particularly beneficial for people who are sick.
Taking a sauna can be a great way to decompress, relax, and unwind after a long, hard day. Not only will the intense heat help to relax the muscles but it will also improve the flow of blood to the brain, which will enhance your mood and relieve stress.
This makes an evening sauna a great option for both mental and physical relaxation.
The blood vessels throughout your body will relax and dilate in a sauna due to the high temperature. As the blood flow increases, nutrients and oxygen are supplied to muscles and joints much more quickly, which will help them to heal and reduce tension, alleviating any aches, pains, and soreness.
One 2019 study found that saunas are especially beneficial for people suffering from lower back pain. Using a dry sauna can also leave people feeling more energized, eliminating fatigue, which is a major known factor in causing repairs and rehabilitation to occur more slowly.
Good For The Heart & Nervous System
The heat inside a sauna can cause your heart rate to increase, which keeps it active and helps to make it stronger, while also improving blood circulation. This can make a sauna particularly useful for those suffering from a heart condition or the symptoms caused by one.
Your sympathetic nervous system also becomes more active, as it is required to maintain a healthy temperature balance within your body. Your endocrine glands are particularly involved in this response, making it a fabulous way to keep them functioning at an optimal level.
Cleanses Pores & Improving The Quality Of Your Skin
The act of sweating is great to help cleanse your pores, which will help to remove any dirt and oils and leave your skin looking much cleaner and clearer after using the sauna.
As your heart rate speeds up and your blood vessels dilate, there is also an increase in blood flow to the skin, which will make these benefits even more noticeable.
It should be worth noting though that if you have a skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis, some experts caution that the sauna may aggravate your skin and cause irritation.
Infrared Sauna Vs Traditional Sauna: What Is The Difference?
Infrared saunas are powered by infrared light, a type of electromagnetic radiation and one of the 3 methods of heat transference. It is defined by having wavelengths between 1,000 micrometers (0.04 inches) to 760 nanometres (3 inches), and a frequency between 300 gigahertz and 400 terahertz.
Infrared light is then split into two categories, far infrared light and near-infrared light. Near-infrared light is very similar to visible light. It has short wavelengths and is commonly used in devices that require wireless energy transfer, such as the remote for a TV.
Far infrared light has longer wavelengths that are invisible to the human eye. Far rays also produce warmth and a range of effects that are comparable to natural sunlight. This light is what is used in an infrared sauna and similar therapy devices and our bodies can even produce the rays naturally themselves.
Infrared saunas are great for treating issues near the surface of the body, as they can penetrate up to 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) into human tissue, where they can be safely absorbed. This can help with pain relief, blood flow, circulation, detoxification, relaxation, skin rejuvenation, sleep, and weight loss.
Traditional saunas can be heated through a range of different options, including electric heaters, log and gas stoves, and heated rocks covered in water. This produces heat naturally but won’t directly expose your body to any rays.
Both types of saunas will often be used in an environment that resembles a traditional log cabin, while the technology used in infrared saunas can also be condensed and used in things like sauna blankets and portable personal saunas.
Some people find an infrared sauna creates a more relaxing atmosphere, as it heats the body directly, rather than the air around you, which makes it easier to breathe. However, this means it won’t have the same effect on your airways, as traditional saunas can help to clear them out.
This means the type of sauna you would choose to use when sick would depend on exactly what is wrong with you and what symptoms it is causing.
How Does A Steam Room Compare To A Sauna?
A steam room is much like a sauna in a range of ways, as both center around the use of heat therapy in a small, enclosed area. They were designed to help you relax, heal your body, and lose water. The difference between the two is that a sauna uses dry heat, while a steam room is much more humid.
Saunas are heated using methods such as heated stones, wood or gas stoves, electric heaters, and infrared light. Steam rooms, on the other hand, use wet heat produced by boiling water.
Steam rooms make you sweat even more than a sauna, and some studies even suggest that they cause your body to release more toxins. This would make a steam room better suited than a sauna for the idea of sweating out an illness.
The dry heat created in a sauna will make your heart pump much harder than usual. This will help to improve your circulation, increasing blood flow to the organs and muscles and encouraging faster healing of your cells.
Whether you choose a sauna or steam room to help you battle an illness depends on if you are more interested in trying to remove toxins or encourage recovery of your body, as well as how much you believe these different forms of heat therapy will help with said goals.
What Is A Cold Or Flu?
Colds and flu are both illnesses that affect the human respiratory system.
Caused by viruses and highly contagious, they can cause symptoms such as coughs, aches, pains, headaches, fever, fatigue, a sore throat, congestion, sinus pressure, poor appetite, stomach cramps, sneezing, nausea, sickness, diarrhea, and a blocked or runny nose.
What Are The Best Ways To Treat Them?
Colds and flu unfortunately have no cure and are illnesses that simply have to run their course as your body fights them off. There are, however, a number of ways that you can help to fight the symptoms and make your experience a little less unpleasant and shorter lasting.
Resting, relaxing, and staying hydrated are the best options to help you recover from colds and flu. Other options at your disposal include using hot drinks and honey to soothe a sore throat, using menthol products and steam to fight congestion, and taking medication to ease aches and pains.
There are also a number of studies of homeopathic remedies and natural methods to help fight colds and flu, with herbal teas and using a sauna among the most popular of these.
Sauna With A Fever Or Flu
It is not advised for people to use a sauna once they already have a fever. At that point, your body is already trying to use heat therapy internally, all by itself. Not only does this mean that you will not see any benefit from going into a sauna, but it can also raise your temperature to dangerous levels.
Saunas also cause fluid loss, which can lead to dehydration and make it more difficult for your body to heal itself. Once the flu or other illness has progressed to the point of a fever, the only thing you can really do is rest and eat and drink healthy foods that encourage recuperation.
Sauna With A Cold
There is not enough proof to either confirm or discredit the idea of a sauna being able to help treat a cold. Some researchers have said that the heat in a sauna can ease symptoms as it boosts drainage, while others speculate that the high temperatures can actually weaken cold and flu viruses.
You can lose a fair amount of water through sweat even from just a short sauna. If you do decide to use a sauna when you have a cold, try to avoid food or drinks that can cause dehydration, such as alcohol, caffeine, or salty foods, for a few hours both before and after your session.
Make a point of rehydrating after your sauna by drinking two to four large glasses of cool water. You should also let your body cool down gradually and naturally after a sauna. Going straight from a hot sauna to a cold place can put unnecessary stress on your body and make your cold even worse.
If at any point during your sauna you feel unwell, it is recommended that you exit it immediately and allow your body to cool off.
Sauna With Another Illness
When it comes to taking a sauna with another illness, the exact benefits and risks will vary based on exactly what you are suffering from. However, there is evidence to suggest it can help with things like coughs and chest congestion.
The improved blood flow to the airways will cause them to open while helping the cells to relax. This can help you to clear out any mucus and soothe the irritation that is causing the cough.
Similarly, the improved blood flow to the brain can also allow saunas to help relieve pain from headaches and migraines in some instances, as it helps the blood vessels to relax and eases tension.
It is very important to stress though that these benefits can vary on a case-by-case basis and, if you have any concerns, you should contact a medical professional before you decide to take a sauna.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS)
Before we conclude our article on whether you should use a sauna when sick or not, I want to first go over a few of the most frequently asked questions people have on the subject. This should help to make the risks and benefits extremely clear, so that everyone can make a fully informed decision.
Does “Sweating It Out” Really Work?
Unfortunately, when you perspire, as much as 99% of your sweat will consist of water. While some toxins can be expelled through the pores, the viruses that cause illnesses like colds and the flu will need to be fought off by the body’s immune system.
This means that, while a sauna can help you to combat the symptoms of these illnesses, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to sweat your way back to health.
Is It Good To Go In The Sauna When Sick?
Whether or not it is good to go in the sauna “when sick” totally depends on what is wrong with you. A sauna can cause unnecessary stress on your body, especially when you have common flu symptoms such as a fever or high temperature.
There is no definitive proof on whether or not a sauna will truly benefit an ailment but in most cases, you can certainly try without too much of an issue. Just make sure you don’t spend any longer than 20 minutes in it at a time and make sure to be fully hydrated before you enter and rehydrate after.
Will A Sauna Make A Cold Worse?
Inhaling hot air while in a sauna will have no significant impact on the overall severity of the symptoms you experience when suffering from the common cold. So, while there is no guarantee that a sauna will combat a cold, it is highly unlikely that it will make it any worse.
A sauna isn’t going to just make you get over a cold or the flu, as your immune system will have to fight it off internally. That said, as saunas can boost the immune system’s functions in some cases, it is possible that it will help you to recover more quickly and will also ease many of the symptoms.
As there is little risk that it will make your condition any worse, provided you don’t have a fever or temperature, there is no harm you giving it a go. If you don’t want to leave your home when you are sick, you could even buy a sauna blanket or personal sauna to utilize the benefits that way instead.
Steve is a retired professional wrestler with over 10 years of experience in the personal fitness industry. He is a certified personal trainer working with a wide variety of athletes as well as a fitness writer.