*Disclaimer: The written article is based on a summary of existing scientific 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 17 scientific references. All references are numbered. You can access the text of the reference by clicking on the number.
Many people intuitively think that a dry sauna helps them deal with lung problems such as pneumonia. In this blog post, I'll explore what the science currently illustrates on this topic. Let's begin with understanding the problem though:
Introduction: Is A Dry Sauna Good For Pneumonia?
Another one of those questions, "is a dry sauna good for pneumonia", which is frequently asked! Naturally, the answer I give is usually "it's complicated", because it all depends on your unique circumstances.
For instance, if you're young and have mild lung issues, such as asthma, and have had mild pneumonia a year ago, then I'll say "go ahead, no problem". But, if you just got out of the hospital and are on medication for your pneumonia right now, and you're feeling sick and not sleeping well, then the answer is a resolute "no" - unless you consult your physician.
But, before considering whether dry saunas are good for pneumonia, let's first take a look at what pneumonia fundamentally is:
What Is Pneumonia? Basics 101
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs, specifically the areas involved with gas exchange (1; 2; 3). Pneumonia is usually paired with fever, coughing, and symptoms of shortness of breath.
That shortness of breath occurs because the body's ability to remove CO2 (carbon dioxide) from the bloodstream and have O2 (oxygen) taken up by the bloodstream is impaired.
Your body's cells need oxygen to generate energy, and if that process is impaired, many processes in your body aren't as effective and efficient as they'd otherwise be (4; 5; 6).
Usually, bacteria cause pneumonia, creating an infection. Other substances can cause the problem too though, such as viruses, toxins, and other compounds. Moreover, pneumonia is also not a singular, "monolithic" disease--instead, pneumonia can differ according to cause, location, intensity, type of inflammation, symptoms, etcetera.
In other words, there's no one such thing called "pneumonia", just like there's no one such thing as heart disease - different types of heart and blood vessel issues exist!
And there's more:
Pre-existing conditions - especially lung diseases - being older, and having a weakened immune system, are the main risk factors for pneumonia. That info should also help you understand why my view on pneumonia and using a sauna is very context-dependent!
Acute pneumonia is usually treated with antibiotics. Hygiene, high fitness levels, and promoting overall health is the best method to lower your risk for pneumonia. With that said, let's move on to sauna use and pneumonia:
Is A Sauna Good For Pneumonia: Prevention
Of course, there's a huge difference between using a sauna once you've got acute pneumonia and using a sauna for preventing the condition. First, I'll focus on the latter: prevention.
Let's go through a couple of studies:
- In one study, males from 42 - 61 years old were followed over a period of a whopping 26.6 years (7). Over this period, frequent sauna bathers had a 21% lower risk for getting pneumonia compared to people who used saunas infrequently. Infrequent sauna use was defined as using the sauna 1 time a week, or fewer. Frequent sauna use was defined as using the sauna 2 times a week, or more frequently, up to 7 times a week. While you don't fall within the risk category if you're under 65 years old, pneumonia risk does generally increase once you're over 40!
- A similar study looked at the same participants, and further explored the link between the frequency of sessions and pneumonia risk (8). The result? Compared to 1 session a week or fewer, 2-3 weekly sauna sessions reduced pneumonia risk by 33% and 4 or more by 47%. 47% means your pneumonia risk is literally halved!
- The same study population also showed a generalized decrease in overall respiratory diseases - so not just pneumonia (9)!
- There's one methodological downside with these studies: from a medical perspective, the studies are a "cohort" study, where participants are tracked over long periods of time. Filling out questionnaires, for instance, helps researchers then establish what lifestyle habits affect the participants' outcomes on health. The downside is that these cohort studies don't use the gold standard of medicine, the "Randomized Controlled Trial" (RCT) method, by randomly allocating participants to a control and intervention group.
So what does the science say in this case?
Overall, there's a very high likelihood that sauna use - specifically dry saunas - lower your risk of not only pneumonia but also other lung conditions!
Moreover, as infrared saunas increase your core body temperature more easily than dry saunas, it's almost certain that infrared saunas have the same benefits. The infrared light penetrates your body, affecting cells at a much deeper level than a regular dry sauna. It's therefore likely that using an infrared sauna confers more benefits to your health than a dry sauna.
Let's now look at using dry saunas in other contexts:
Safely Using A Sauna With Pneumonia - Why Under Acute Pneumonia Saunas Are A Huge No!
Of course, if you've got the common cold, sauna bathing has been traditionally promoted as a "cure" (10; 11). Nothing could be further from the truth though, as sauna use doesn't affect acute symptoms and neither prevents the common cold.
And here's the deal:
You usually won't become feverish during a common cold. Pneumonia is different though and is frequently paired with a fever. In fact, fevers are even common in most pneumonia (12; 13; 14). Temperatures can even rise quickly, exemplified through a fever, combined with inflammation.
Hence, I therefore strongly recommend never using a dry sauna with pneumonia, because it can make your condition worse. Again, always consult with your physician before using a sauna if you've got a chronic health condition.
I've written the previous section with bold letters because some people might assume that because a sauna is good at preventing the condition, it will also be good in acute circumstances.
If I may be so bold: that assumption is completely wrong.
Let me give an analogy:
MIld and even intense exercise, while preventing overtraining, is great for heart health. If you've got an acute heart or blood vessel condition, however, I would never recommend someone to engage in intense exercise every day of the week but to see a doctor instead. Pneumonia is the same:
Therefore, saunas are only useful for preventing pneumonia, and should never be used in acute circumstances!
Conclusion: Saunas For Pneumonia Prevention--Not Treatment
It's very simple:
The evidence is reasonably strong that saunas will lower your risk of getting pneumonia. Overall fitness is also associated with that same outcome, which is a reasonable common sense expectation most scientists probably have before looking at the evidence.
Oh yeah, and one more thing:
Infrared saunas are not your only option for prevention. Some recent red light therapy studies - although they're animal studies - suggest that this modality can also improve even acute pneumonia (15; 16; 17). The reason for that outcome is that red light therapy panels only provide red and near-infrared light, which barely heat the body, but do supply your body with the healing wavelengths of light. As always, if you've got acute pneumonia, only use modalities such as red light therapy under medical supervision of a doctor.
As often is the case, once more, prevention is your best medicine!