Is a Sauna Good for a Cold? Here’s What the Science Says
Common colds are no fun.
Talk about the inconvenience of a stuffy or runny nose. Or the painful discomfort of a sore throat. And the headache that kicks in when you’ve blown your nose too many times. You feel yucky!
Unfortunately, most adults have an average of 2 to 3 colds per year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). 
Since common colds are a common illness, you do well to be aware of effective and fast remedies for colds. And this leads us to the subject of this article:
Is a sauna good for a cold?
The idea that you can sweat out and cure a cold by taking a sauna has persisted for centuries. And in this article, we’ll uncover what science has to say about this old folklore.
Ready? First, it’s helpful to understand the illness we’re fighting.
Know the Foe: Common Cold 101
The common cold is a viral infection of your nose and throat. And it’s the most common infectious sickness among humans.
Since most people get the cold during the winter, it's easy to conclude it's the weather making them sick. But that's not the case. You don't catch a cold because you got beat by the rain or stayed in wet clothes. Viruses cause colds.
What, then, is the correlation between cold-like illnesses and cold seasons? Why are the fall and winter seasons the flu season ?
It turns out this is a simple yet tricky question, as scientists are yet to come up with a definite answer. And this lack of clarity establishes that the common cold puzzle is an elusive one.
One Finnish study summarized the three consensus reasons we’re more prone to colds during the cold seasons .
- Rhinoviruses replicate better and live longer in colder temperatures and humidity.
- Exposure to cold air affects our immune function. As such, it puts up a weak fight against the virus.
- We're indoors more often during the cold seasons. So, it's easier for viruses to pass from one person to another.
Here’s an important point: the common cold has no cure! The available over-the-counter (OTC) treatments can only relieve your symptoms until the cold passes.
The good news is that this illness is self-limiting, meaning it’ll last for a short period and go away on its own. Most cases resolve within 7-10 days .
In fact, the cold symptoms you experience are not only indications that you’re infected. They’re also indications that your body has started fighting off the viruses. So if you’ve got a cold, you may as well trust your body and begin a 10-day countdown.
Now that we've established that a sauna can't cure your cold, let's consider the follow-up question: "can sitting in a sauna relieve cold symptoms?”
Myth or Truth: Is a Sauna Good for Cold?
Whether a sauna will help your cold depends on when and how you use it.
Saunas can reduce your chances of contracting a cold, provided you regularly take those baths when you’re healthy.
But if you're already infected, then a sauna won't help. In fact, using a sauna after you've caught a cold could worsen your symptoms. A popularly cited 1990 Austrian study best proves this claim .
The researchers followed 50 people for six months. And here’s what they found in the last three months of the study: the 25 people who regularly used saunas during the study period reported half as many colds as those who did not.
The study also found that the duration and severity of the cold did not differ significantly between the two groups.
Why the Disparity?
If saunas can help prevent the common cold, why do they adversely affect our health once we're infected?
The two primary reasons for this are:
1. Sauna Use Stresses the Body
According to Dr. Philip Sänger, you stress the body when you use the sauna after you've already got a cold . And that isn't good for the immune system. It weakens you, making it easier for viruses to spread.
2. Sauna Use Dehydrates You
Taking saunas puts you at risk of dehydration, and dehydration is guaranteed to make you feel worse and slow down your recovery.
Staying hydrated and drinking lots of fluids is one of the most important things you can do to take care of your body when you're sick. But, the sweating induced by the sauna can cause you to lose more body fluids than usual.
So, if you choose to go to a sauna, make sure to stay super hydrated.
Sauna Benefits: Does it Help At All?
Saunas do have scientifically proven health benefits. For example, they improve the immune system, help ease stress, improve cardiovascular function, increase blood circulation, reduce pain, etc. .
However, there's no scientific evidence that a sauna helps your cold.
The problem is that decades of anecdotal claims argue against what science says. And these claims have been religiously passed from one generation to another.
So, what’s what?
Is science wrong or misinformed? Or are our ancestors and their loyalists delusional?
1. Sauna induced sweat can remove toxins from the body
Sweat doesn’t detoxify. Its primary purpose is to help cool down your body when you get hot.
If we could sweat out a cold, then our sweats should contain toxins. But, laboratory analysis of sweat shows that it’s mostly water and a little bit of salt and fat . This analysis suggests that sweat induced by sauna does not affect the symptoms or severity of your cold.
On the flip side, sauna exposure usually stimulates the release of (a) beta-endorphins— our body’s internal pain reliever, and (b) dopamine—our body's feel-good chemical.
So, yes, you may enjoy some temporary symptom relief. But that small benefit comes with certain risks (more on this shortly).
2. Hot steam can help clear congestion.
Steam inhalation is one of the most widely used home remedies to clear stuffy noses and breathe more easily. So, there’s no denying that inhaling hot steam can help ease congestion .
This benefit is short-term, though.
Contrary to popular belief, hot steam won't cure the infection or kill the viruses. In other words, the secretions that caused your stuffy nose are at large. And the buildup of those secretions begins as soon as you step out of the sauna, says Frank Esper, MD .
Now, anecdotal experiences and scientific studies have proven that not everyone experiences symptom relief after doing hot steam therapy . But, studies have also confirmed that sauna use is inherently unharmful . Therefore, if you think you want to step into the sauna to breathe in some steam, so be it!
Just ensure you take enough fluids to make up for those you lost to sweating. And beware of the other associated risks.
3. Sauna Use Makes Your Body Create Artificial Fever
A fever is a temporary rise in body temperature. And it stimulates the immune cells to attack a virus . Therefore, some people assume that if we heat our bodies in a sauna, we can induce fever and enable our immune system to fight and kill the viruses causing the cold.
The reality isn't so straightforward, though. And there's no scientific evidence to suggest that simply raising the body's temperature will accomplish the same result as a fever.
Tips for Using the Sauna (the Right Way)
We’ve established that saunas are beneficial for our overall health. And that they’re effective for staving off cold.
But we’ve also highlighted that saunas could hurt our health under certain conditions.
Therefore, if you choose to use a sauna, here are six tips to ensure you do it in a way that doesn't affect your health.
How to Really Get Rid of a Cold (3 Timeless Remedies)
To quote the Mayo Clinic, "cold remedies are almost as common as the common cold ." If you already have a cold, you may be tempted to try every potential remedy in the book. But there are three proven treatments to help you feel better fast:
Is a Sauna Good For a Cold? Now You Know Better
Again, common colds are no fun. So it helps to be aware of every tactic in the book.
You now know that saunas can help stave off colds. But they can also be counterproductive once the cold has broken out.
You know it's best to stay away from saunas when sick. And it’s important to use saunas within reason at all times!
Most importantly, you know the most effective remedies for combating the common cold — stay hydrated, get plenty of rest, and humidify your air.
We can't say your common cold days are behind you. But the next time you or any of your loved ones catch a cold, you'll know exactly what to do (and not to do) to go through the illness with minimal pain.
Do saunas help with colds?
As a preventive measure? Yes. But saunas don't cure colds. Nor do they reduce the duration or severity of the common cold bout.
Does a sauna help when you're sick?
The answer to this depends on the sickness in question, but it’s generally better to stay away from saunas when you're sick. Speak to your doctor to determine what's best in your case.
Can you sweat out a cold in a sauna?
No. If this claim were valid, then sweat should contain toxins. But that's not the case, as sweat contains water, fat, and salts only.
Can sitting in a Sauna relieve cold symptoms?
Yes, sauna use MAY provide temporary relief from stuffy nose and other cold symptoms.
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