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Article: Can Infrared Saunas Help Asthma? A Complete Guide

Can Infrared Saunas Help Asthma? A Complete Guide

Can Infrared Saunas Help Asthma? A Complete Guide

Written by Chris Lang

 

Besides offering relaxation and therapeutic benefits, sauna bathing is recommended to individuals with asthma. The reason being, the high heat and dry air help to loosen the mucus and clear the respiratory pathway. Though this doesn’t eliminate the need for medication, nor is it a cure, it can reduce the number of attacks and relieve asthma symptoms, such as wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. But has the connection between saunas and the management of asthma symptoms been proven?

That’s what this article will discuss. We’ll look at the different types of saunas and their impact on the body. Also, we’ll determine how this benefits the respiratory system and highlight the scientific research that backs this up.

Understanding Asthma and Its Symptoms

Asthma is a chronic disease of the respiratory system, also called bronchial asthma. Since it doesn’t have a cure, it requires continuous treatment like other chronic illnesses. However, asthma is unique in that it doesn’t have gradual progression. Rather, it’s episodic and characterized by intermittent and acute episodes of respiratory distress called asthma attacks. 

The causes of asthma range from genetics to environmental factors. Anyone can contract asthma, but it mostly affects children because their immune system is too weak to withstand respiratory pathogens. Globally, around 300 million people have asthma.

Symptoms

When an asthmatic person inhales a trigger or allergen (pollen grain, dust, smoke, and deodorants), the immune system activates to try and fight it off. This causes inflammation or swelling of the respiratory tract. Additionally, the airway produces excess mucus to trap and clear the allergens.

In the process, the smooth muscles of the respiratory system constrict or tighten, making it challenging for air to flow in and out of the lungs. This results in shortness of breath, wheezing, or the production of a high-pitched whistling sound, chest tightness, and coughing. 

Challenges of Managing Asthma

Although some people experience mild asthma symptoms, those with severe symptoms have difficulty managing the condition. First, they have to be selective about where they go. Even slight exposure to triggers suspended in the air can result in an asthma attack. Worst of all, you never know how severe an attack will be. 

Another essential factor is keeping medication and inhalers close by because an attack can happen at any time. If a person has no medication or someone to help, it can result in severe health conditions, even death. In fact, research shows around three people die each day due to an asthma attack. 

The effects are not only physical but also emotional. Most asthmatic individuals live with fear and anxiety because of the unpredictability of their condition, so they may want to try sauna for anxiety. Plus, they can’t engage in all activities or go to crowded places, as this increases the chances of an attack.

Sauna Basics

Although saunas have existed since ancient times, they remain relevant today because of their therapeutic and health benefits. Having originated in Finnish culture, they were used for heat bathing and followed cultural traditions. For instance, women used to give birth in saunas. When the Finnish people began to emigrate in the twentieth century, they spread the sauna to other parts of the world.

Even though most saunas are still made of wood for its insulation properties, the heating mechanisms differ. Some people use traditional methods to heat the air inside the sauna, including wood-burning stoves, hot stones, or electric stoves. The temperatures here can range between 160 to 200℉. Usually, the air is dry or wet. To make it wet, water is poured on sauna stones, filling the air with moisture as it evaporates. 

The other type is the infrared sauna. Instead of heating the surrounding air, it heats the body directly using light waves. The temperatures here are slightly lower than traditional saunas, ranging between 110 and 130℉. 

Why People Use Saunas

Regardless of the heating method, saunas have gained popularity worldwide because of their countless benefits. Firstly, saunas offer passive cardiovascular workouts. Though you won’t be moving, the heat will increase the body temperature and cause the blood to pump faster to reach the cardio zone. Consequently, the blood vessels will vasodilate to increase oxygen supply to the body tissues. The impact has similar effects to working out or running. 

In cold areas, having a sauna is always a plus. Since the risk of the common cold is always prevalent, the warm air in the sauna can help alleviate cold symptoms. Also, using wet air can offer dry or scratchy throat relief. 

Lastly, most people use saunas for their associated health benefits. For instance, vasodilation helps to reduce blood pressure, preventing cardiovascular complications. Also, sweating is a natural way of removing toxins from the body. In addition, it opens up the pores, leaving the skin healthy and glowing.  

Sauna Bathing for Asthma Relief

As research strives to find a cure for asthma, those affected have to use all the methods available to alleviate asthma symptoms. Though most people wouldn’t consider a sauna for asthma as a tactic, it offers several benefits worth considering. 

As mentioned earlier, one effect of asthma is the overproduction of mucus, which leads to congestion of the airways. Research shows that inhaling warm, moist air helps to loosen the mucus.

Shortness of breath, which is one of the symptoms of asthma, leads to a limited oxygen supply to the body’s organs. The sauna heat expands blood vessels and increases the heart rate, boosting the oxygen supply to the lungs and the rest of the body. Furthermore, studies show that heat increases partial pressure or exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the lungs.  Additional research shows that blood vessel dilation from heat reduces hemoglobin binding capacity, letting more oxygen reach body organs. 

Inflammation or swelling of the airways makes breathing a challenge. Inhaling moist air from the sauna helps soothe the air tract and the bronchus. This expands the airways, allowing mucus to pass and air to move in and out of the lungs smoothly. If you’re stressed, your body releases a stress hormone called cortisol, which elevates inflammation. Research shows that saunas help to relax the body and reduce stress. As a result, the concentration of the stress hormone decreases, reducing inflammation in the respiratory system. 

When exposed to the high temperatures in the sauna, the body cools itself through sweating and deep breathing. According to research, deep breaths cause the diaphragm to expand and contract more, improving lung function and the overall functioning of the respiratory system.

Although saunas don’t provide long-term solutions to asthma symptoms, they improve respiratory functioning in the short term. 

Sauna Types and Their Effectiveness

Generally, there are two types of sauna: traditional Finnish saunas and infrared saunas. 

The traditional Finnish saunas come in three types, depending on their heating mechanisms:

  • Wood-burning saunas: Though these are the oldest saunas, they’re also popular in modern properties, and you can choose them to add timeless aesthetics to your home. Since they’re heated by fire, the indoor air is mostly dry. The production of smoke makes them ideal for outdoor space. The downside of these saunas is that they require a steady wood supply, and it might be challenging to maintain a specific temperature. Besides, smoke is an allergen that can trigger an asthma attack. 

  • Electrical saunas: These saunas work similarly to wood-burning saunas but are powered by an electric stove. The indoor air is dry, but you can increase humidity by pouring water on the sauna stones. Also, it’s possible to maintain a specific temperature with these saunas. 

  • Steam saunas: The outstanding feature of these saunas is that they have 100% humidity. So, they’re usually constructed with mold-resistant material. They use electricity to boil water used to release steam. This makes them ideal for people with asthma compared to the wood and electricity-heated ones. 

Infrared saunas are modern and don’t affect the air humidity. However, the indoor temperature increases moderately. They heat up quickly, and it’s possible to control temperatures. To learn more about these saunas, contact Komowa.

In terms of efficiency, both traditional Finnish saunas provide enough heat to help manage asthma symptoms. However, in terms of air quality for people with asthma, wood and electric saunas are ineffective. Dry air can cause irritation of the respiratory system and harden mucus, making it hard to decongest. This worsens the asthma symptoms. Infrared and steam saunas have enough humidity to keep the airway moist. In addition, infrared saunas are the most efficient in heat penetration because they directly heat the body.  

Precautions and Considerations

With all the sauna benefits linked to asthma management, people with asthma might be considering getting a sauna. However, environmental conditions significantly influence asthma symptoms. Before using a sauna, therefore, an asthmatic person should take various considerations to minimize the chances of an attack:

  • Temperature: Saunas have varying temperatures, with dry saunas being the hottest. When exposed to high temperatures, water loss through sweating can cause dehydration. As a result, the mucus thickens, making it hard to clear from the airways. Also, lung function can be compromised, causing difficulties in breathing. To prevent this, you should choose a sauna with moderate temperatures, as it has a lower risk of dehydration. Besides, it’s important to drink enough water before getting into a sauna. 

  • Humidity: Humid air has an advantage over dry air for asthmatic individuals. It keeps the respiratory tract moist, reducing chances of airway constriction. However, high humidity also supports the growth of mold and mildew, and their spores are common triggers for asthma attacks. Before getting into a sauna, it’s crucial to ensure the air is humid and free of any triggers.  

  • Time duration: Excessive use of saunas can have negative effects like dehydration, hyperventilation, and low oxygen intake. As such, you should choose a suitable time (around 10 to 20 minutes) to enjoy the benefits without risking an asthma attack. 

Other Health Benefits of Sauna

Besides offering respiratory benefits, saunas for asthma also offer other health benefits that can contribute to the overall wellness of people with asthma:

  • Improved mental health: When an asthmatic person is stressed, the body secretes stress hormones that increase inflammation. The heat from the sauna relaxes the body, causing it to release feel-good hormones which uplift the mood.

  • Relaxation: As the heat from the sauna penetrates the blood vessels, they dilate and increase blood flow and supply of nutrients and oxygen to the body organs. This improves sleep, which promotes better lung function. 

  • Pain relief:  Strained breathing and coughing can cause muscle aches and pain. Sauna heat penetrates muscles, offering tension and pain relief. This improves the life quality of asthma patients. 

Is Sauna Good for Asthma? 

Saunas don’t only offer therapeutic and cardiovascular benefits. They also have respiratory benefits that can help people with asthma manage their symptoms. However, saunas are not all safe. One tip to remember is to keep the air moderately humid. Most importantly, consulting with a health professional is necessary before using a sauna. They’ll assess your health and determine if a sauna is safe for you.  Contact Komowa to learn more about the health benefits of saunas in managing asthma.

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