Using a sauna for asthma: not many people would consider that a rational tactic at first thought. However, in this blog post, I hopefully convince you that for asthma, infrared saunas can be an amazing tool.
In this blog post, I first cover the basics of understanding asthma, and then tell you why spending time inside a sauna lowers asthma and respiratory disease risk - in part through lowering inflammation. Next up, I explain why infrared saunas are superior for countering asthma and why using salt therapy can enhance your results even further.
What Is Asthma? Asthma 101
So let’s first explore what asthma fundamentally is before exploring the question of whether “is a sauna good for you if you have asthma?”
Asthma is an inflammatory condition of the lungs that is present over a longer period of time (1; 2; 3; 4). Both children and adults are affected. In developed nations, 7.5% of people are affected by asthma - worldwide over 200 million people have the condition.
The consequence of asthma is airflow limitations, which leads to lower peak airflows when tested. As a result of that reduced airflow, people with asthma are prone to breathe quicker and through their chest and have symptoms such as coughing and wheezing. If asthma becomes worse - such as during what is called an “asthma attack” or “exacerbation” - you’ll end up with shortness of breath, a high heart rate, and the inability to talk calmly.
These exacerbations can become dangerous in the long run and even life-threatening. In such a case, an asthma patient ends up with low blood pressure, no longer attempts to breathe much, and may not be fully consciously present.
As asthma is an inflammatory condition of the lungs, anything increasing those levels of inflammation also leads to exacerbations. Air pollution or substances you’re allergic to, for instance, make symptoms worse. This domain of inflammation is also where saunas enter the equation - as will become clear very soon.
The most common method of treating asthma is avoiding these triggers such as air pollutants and using prescription medications. These prescription medications aim to impede the inflammatory response and an excessively active immune system, thereby opening up the airways for proper breathing.
However, new treatments are increasingly available for asthma depending on your personal circumstances. One example is testing for allergens you don’t tolerate and then avoiding exposure.
Lately, lifestyle changes have also been deemed much more important, such as using exercise or breathing exercises for long-term management of the condition. There’s very little use for corticosteroids during asthma exacerbations if you’re not moving in daily life and not optimising your lung capacity.
That finding is also where saunas enter the equation - saunas are an excellent symptom management strategy:
Sauna Therapy For Asthma - Managing Symptoms Through Different Means
The medical mainstream considers asthma currently incurable, and rightfully so, perhaps. However, you can affect symptoms in an incredible way and that’s the topic I’ll consider right now:
Direct Studies On Sauna Therapy For Asthma And Respiratory Diseases
Fortunately, several studies have been carried out on respiratory diseases in general, and asthma in particular, in relation to sauna use (5; 6; 7; 8; 9).
First of all, because the heat really opens up the airways and counters sinusitis, many people using a sauna experience relief from asthma symptoms. Spending time inside a sauna also increases peripheral blood flow - in the same way exercise does - and increases heart rate, all of which aid the exchange of airflow and oxygenation of tissues across the body. Proper oxygenation, especially of peripheral tissues like your hands and feet, is generally poorer if you've got asthma.
Also, in general, spending time inside a sauna is very well tolerated by people with asthma - even for children.
Additionally, saunas literally lower your risk of having respiratory diseases in the first place. A Finnish study investigated the effects of sauna frequency in study participants over a period of 25 years. Participants who used a sauna 4-7 times a week had a 41% reduction in risk of respiratory diseases compared to people using a sauna 1 time a week or less. These respiratory diseases also include asthma.
Moreover, pneumonia risk went down by 37% for the people with the 4-7 sauna sessions per week frequency. Asthma is a common risk factor for pneumonia, and therefore, having a natural means to reduce pneumonia risk is a great advantage if you’ve got asthma. Of course, you have to establish a proper sauna habit to reap all these benefits.
Overall, studies from different countries show that saunas inhibit the symptoms of asthma when used properly. You’ll have to be more careful using a sauna if you’ve got a current asthma exacerbation though…
Moving on to another important topic:
Saunas Lower Overall Inflammation
Inflammation is closely intertwined with asthma, and saunas can dramatically lower the overall inflammation levels in your body (10; 11). As you might recall, asthma is an inflammatory condition of the lungs.
So here are the results of the science:
The same Finnish research group I talked about earlier has also tracked the inflammation levels in relation to sauna habits study participants had. The highest sauna frequency of 4-7 sessions per week, here, led to average “C-reactive protein” levels of 1.65 mmol/L, compared to 2.41 for participants who used the sauna only once per week.
C-reactive protein is arguably one of the most important if not the most important markers for inflammation that can be measured in your blood. Chronically high levels of inflammation are intertwined with different types of chronic health conditions, such as heart disease and lung conditions.
The same researchers also showed that a high sauna bathing frequency was protective against getting pneumonia, even if you had higher levels of inflammation. Again, pneumonia is a common risk if you’ve got asthma (12; 13; 14).
Hence, in essence, using a sauna counters some of the most important symptoms of asthma, which are inflammation and the pneumonia risk.
Next up, let’s consider what sauna is best for asthma:
Why Infrared Saunas Are Better Than Traditional Saunas For Asthma
I’ve written extensively about the temperature difference between traditional saunas and infrared saunas in the past - such as comparing the implications of using infrared versus Finnish saunas.
So, the benefit of an infrared sauna is that you’re using temperatures that are far lower, at a 60-degrees Celsius maximum. Traditional saunas, such as Finnish saunas, can heat up to temperatures over 100 degrees Celsius - thereby taxing your airways to a greater extent.
Generally, the infrared saunas are perceived as being much gentler on the body, even though you can achieve very high core body temperatures in them. With “core body temperature” I mean the temperature of your midsection, not the extremities.
Then, there’s one more benefit you when using infrared saunas:
How Near-Infrared Light Counters Asthma Symptoms Directly
The highest-quality infrared saunas offer you exposure to the full spectrum of infrared heat - including “near”, “middle” and “far” infrared. Normal infrared saunas generally only emit far-infrared.
Nevertheless, studies show that near-infrared has unique properties and benefits of its own. These studies include both human participants and animals (15; 16; 17; 18).
Russian studies with human participants show, for instance, that even 2-4 treatment sessions per year can impede both the frequency and severity of asthma attacks. Animal studies show that very specific lung inflammation can be countered, opens up the airways, reduces the buildup of “mucus”, and has an effect that is almost as strong as some prescription medications.
At Clearlight Infrared® Saunas, we offer both red light therapy that can be used inside a sauna and True Wave II™ heaters - both options supply you with the “near-infrared” wavelengths.
Lastly, there’s one more sauna upgrade option that I want to discuss, specifically for countering asthma:
Upgrade Your Results Even Further With Salt Therapy
Quite a lot of research has been published on using what is called “salt therapy” for asthma (19; 20; 21; 22; 23; 24). In salt therapy, salt is aerosolised into the air. That salt then travels through your nose into your airways and lungs, the same way salty ocean water would do if you were at the beach.
During that journey salt has through your nose and airways into your lungs, the salt (NaCl) very much has a cleansing and anti-inflammatory effect. The studies show salt therapy prevents exacerbations, especially at nighttime. Salt therapy can also be used safely as there is no adverse effect with normal usage.
Overall breathing capacity also improves with salt therapy, in addition to symptom relief. The therapy works for both children and adults and makes the use of some forms of prescription medication against asthma more effective.
Overall, the science behind salt therapy is thus very promising. For that reason, we’ve decided to offer our own salt therapy product, called “HALOONE™ HALOTHERAPY”, for use inside our infrared saunas.
Conclusion: Is Sauna Good For Asthma? Absolutely, But You Can Do Even Better
Saunas, especially infrared saunas, are extremely helpful for countering asthma. However, if you’ve got the opportunity, you can upgrade your sauna experience easily with some addons that help you deal with asthma even better.
Red light therapy and salt therapy, for instance, have independent benefits for countering asthma on their own. You can use these therapies without spending a single minute of extra time because you can use these modalities inside a sauna.
In all honesty? The future for asthmatics is bright...