*Disclaimer: The written article is based on a summary of existing literature on the topic of infrared saunas. The article is for educational purposes and the information provided below cannot be taken as a promise to help with acute health problems or diseases.
The claims in the article are backed by 19 scientific references. All references are numbered. You can access the text of the reference by clicking on the number.
It's currently fall and soon wintertime in many places on this planet. And, for that reason, many people will be complaining about a sore throat once again!
How about an infrared sauna for sore throat problems? I'll specifically explore that topic in this blog post - the answer will surprise you! But first things first, let's begin by understanding the problem:
Sore Throat 101: Understanding The Science
Before we dig into the "infrared sauna for sore throat" topic, let's first try to understand what a sore throat is! And sure, every single human being on this planet has had a sore throat before, but not everyone knows how the problem is caused.
A sore throat is a very common reason people visit a doctor's office - 1 in 10 primary care visits is relatable to a sore throat (1; 2; 3). And contrary to what many people believe, a sore throat is not caused by breathing in cold air but mostly by viral infections and sometimes by bacterial infections.
The most common science-backed interventions for a sore throat are antibiotics (which won't help if a virus is the culprit), painkillers like NSAIDs, and corticosteroids. Herbal treatments such as "cough syrup" and other modalities like acupuncture are regularly applied too although they have very limited scientific backing.
Of course, if you're generally in good health then waiting a few days until the sore throat passes is some great advice too! Normally - even though not all "sore throats" are the same - the condition is self-limiting and automatically resolves within a week (4; 5). And, if you do have a chronic sore throat, because you might be mouth breathing or because of another reason, infections are usually not the problem.
But what if you don't want to wait 7 days? In that case, why not use nature's own powers to speed things up a little? Let's explore that option:
The Infrared Sauna Sore Throat Solution: Nature's Own Fever Creation Mechanism
Infrared saunas can replicate "fever-like" conditions because you'll heat up your body a lot during a session. The principle of creating fevers intentionally has a long history though:
Hippocrates already considered a fever a quintessential part of the natural immune response 25 centuries ago (6). Back then, Hippocrates speculated about the ability to intentionally create a fever to counter many diseases.
Nowadays, modern science doesn't consider fevers to be 100% benign, although, recently, fevers have been perceived as a very important part of the immune response (7).
The body's ability to create a fever is nowadays considered a very helpful part of the immune response, as long as the fever doesn't become excessive. So, instead of countering the feverish and inflammatory-like response - which was the (pre-) 1990s philosophy - "let it ride" has become a new mantra within immunology.
So here's why that strategy works:
Reason 1: Infrared Saunas Increase Body Temperature Which Upgrade White Blood Cell Counts
In one study, a combination of distance runners and non-athletic people used 15-minute sauna sessions so that their core temperature increased with more than 1 degree Celsius (8).
Different types of white blood cells such as "basophils", "neutrophils", and "lymphocytes" increased in quantity. White blood cells are the main cells of your immune system, and a greater quantity may help you fight infections, such as one caused by a sore throat. The distance runners experienced more benefits than the general population in this regard, which entails that your general health condition does matter for this effect to occur.
Another study confirms the increase in white blood cells after sauna use (9). Hippocrates thus does seem to have a point in his thesis that bringing about a fever optimises the functioning of the immune system.
Whether there's a direct effect on the course of a sore throat still needs to be investigated though.
And there's more:
Reason 2: Saunas Reduce The Pain You Experience
I've talked about the link between (infrared) saunas and pain extensively before. The way I'm relating the infrared sauna's inhibitory effect on pain is mostly speculative, but I would expect an effect on sore throats if the topic were thoroughly scientifically investigated though.
For instance, (infrared) saunas can help lower the amount of pain you experience in the case of tension headaches, chronic pain, neuropathic (nervous-system related) and rheumatoid pain (10; 11; 12). The effect is also not mild either - in some cases people lose their feelings of anger or depression due to the constantly experienced pain perceptions that last all day and night. Infrared light potentially takes those very negative mental states away.
Chronic pain can be absolutely debilitating and changes your life, and usually makes you the worst version of yourself. Due to the saunas widespread effect on pain, I do expect a positive effect in the case of a sore throat as well though! Of course, the pain is the main reason people know they've got a sore throat in the first place, besides inflammation!
Next up, one more related benefit that you can use in your sauna:
Reason 3: Upgrade Your Sessions With A HALOONE® Salt Therapy Device
At Clearlight, we've recently started selling the Rolls Royce of the salt therapy (halotherapy) options: the HALOONE® device. That device is created to be used in your sauna, to be exact. In halotherapy, salt is "aerosolised" into the air, meaning in this case that heat causes the salt to be airborne. That salt, in turn, cleans out your airways.
In many different cases of viral infections of the airways, salt therapy helps to counter the condition (13; 14; 15; 16). In bronchitis - inflammation of the lungs - the salt has an antiviral and anti-inflammatory effect. Of course, the lungs are a much deeper-located tissue than your throat, and the salt has to travel through your throat to arrive at your lungs, so logically the salt will affect your throat as well.
In children with extreme wheezing, for instance - a frequent symptom of a sore throat - hospital stay was effectively reduced. Symptoms of asthma also improved, lending credence to the belief that salt therapy will improve a sore throat.
Lastly, let's consider some other effects that saunas can have:
Other Reasons: Anti-Inflammatory Effects, Improved Energy Production & More
I wanted to keep my argument short and give you sufficient evidence that saunas can help counter a sore throat. If you wanted to look for more evidence for this thesis though, you could also explore the effects of saunas on generalized energy production in the human body (specifically, your cells), the countering of excess inflammation by being in a sauna, improved blood circulation which helps the immune response, deeper sleep which has the same effect, and more.
I highly recommend you read my epic blog on the advantages and possible disadvantages of infrared saunas to learn more. For now, I hope I've convinced you about the infrared sauna for sore throat solution!
Let's get one more topic out of the way though:
Why An Infrared Sauna Might Be Better Than A Regular Steam Room Or Finnish Sauna
Here's my personal experience using both traditional saunas and infrared saunas for a long time:
I've written about the temperature differences of traditional saunas and infrared saunas extensively before. So here's the deal:
- Traditional dry saunas build up temperatures up to 90 degrees Celsius (~200F).
- Finnish saunas go up to 100 degrees Celsius at the maximum (~210F).
- Infrared saunas? Generally, the temperature is 45-55 degrees Celsius (~115-130F).
Why do I mention these facts?
Well, once you've got a sore throat you're already "sick" - even though it might be a mere nuisance. Infrared saunas don't rely upon heating up the air around you, and are therefore extremely gentle. For that reason, you won't be breathing in some 90 degree Celsius air but a temperature that's usually 40 degrees lower.
Infrared saunas are a lot easier on your airways!
Here's how I know:
Did you ever get into a Finnish sauna or a dry sauna? And did you notice that your airways had to get used to the effect in the first few minutes, simply because the air is so hot? Sure, your skin can take the beating, but can your airways, especially if you've got an existing airway infection (a sore throat?)
Here's the deal:
Just from plain common-sense experience, I know that an infrared sauna is way easier on your airways - especially if you've got a sore throat.
Moreover, because the infrared light penetrates deep into the body, up to several inches deep, it's much more likely to have a more generalized effect on your body's biology than the more superficial effect you get from heating the air around your skin (17; 18; 19). Red light and infrared light can penetrate the bone on your head, so it will surely penetrate your throat deeply and have a beneficial effect here.
For that reason, I choose infrared saunas over and above the traditional options for a sore throat!
Conclusion: Infrared Saunas For The Win!
Even though there's much more direct research necessary on the relationship between a sore throat and infrared sauna use, I hope I've painted a reasonable picture as to why infrared saunas are beneficial in this case.
Additionally, adding a salt therapy unit to your sauna probably gives you even quicker results.
And, in the end, don't be too hard on yourself. If you've got a sore throat then don't go overboard with your sauna sessions. Eat well, sleep well, and only see infrared saunas as a tool to recover quicker. Don't go overboard and have many sessions because you're just stressing your body out if you have a sore throat!