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Published Steam Room Studies

Summary of Published Studies on Steam Inhalation

The benefits of steam inhalation from sauna, spa, hot tub and similar apparatus celebrate man’s universal relationship with the classical element, water. Indeed, the word spa is derived from the initial letters of the Latin phrase “sanitas per aquas” meaning “health through water.”

Since the time of Hippocrates (460-370 BC), Greek, Roman and Arabian doctors espoused the inhalation of vapor to convey medicinal effects to the air passages. Steam or warm water vapor was the preferred way of directly conveying medicated effects to the lungs, trachea and larynx.

The ancients believed disease lay in the imbalance of accumulated bodily fluids. Perspiration, bathing, massages and sports were the ways to regain the optimum balance. Early spa treatments included not only the immersion of the body in hot water but also drinking an excessive amount of water. Greeks bathed lavishly after physical exercises. Roman soldiers wounded in battle would visit spas to recuperate and engage in recreational activities.

At home, simple inhalers took the form of a ceramic pot or jug where hot water would be poured. A napkin would be shaped into a funnel and placed on top of the jug or pot. The patient would place his or her mouth at the end of the funnel and breathe in the vapors.


In the mid 1500s Italian doctors published systematic texts on the purpose, methods, and benefits of the science of bathing. They recommended one bath for drinking and bathing. A second one was for people with skin conditions to wash off therapeutic mud. These doctors wrote that bathing could treat no less than seventy-eight known skin conditions during that time.


By the 17th century the new bathing and spa culture spread all across Europe, especially the elite class. Hot and cold springs were centers for mineral treatment and sometimes, leisure. Herbal baths, mudpacks, massages, diet and physical exercise became the holistic approach to treating diseases. In England, the appropriately named southwest town of Bath was famed for its spa treatments that cured paralysis due to lead intoxication. The Bath Hospital admitted 3,377 patients between 1760 and 1879. Forty-five percent were cured while over 90% showed signs of improvement.


Economic prosperity after the Second World War further popularized spa treatments. State governments across the European continent helped shoulder the expenses. Since then, even rheumatologists and dermatologists have acknowledged the medical benefits of bathing especially when supplemented with mineral water, physical exercise, and mudpacks.

From such basic instruments and concepts has evolved a body of scientific work on the therapeutic effects of water. The Latin word for bath, “balneum,” has given us balneotherapy, the treatment of diseases through bathing. Other names that fall within this realm are medicinal water, thermal waters, spa therapy, and hydrotherapy. 


The modern sauna is a wood-paneled room heated with hot rocks in an electric heater. Spruce or cedar is used for the walls while the benches are composed of aspen, obeche timber, or spruce because of their heat resistant properties. The recommended temperature at the bather’s face is from 176 to 212 degrees Fahrenheit. The sauna bather will reach maximum sweating after 15 minutes as skin blood flow, heart rate and cardiac output also increase.

Sauna bathing, steam, and thermal water have all been reported to give tremendous and effective therapeutic rewards. They have the potential to help patients suffering from hypertension and chronic congestive heart failure.  In a September 29, 1888 article titled “The Value of Inhalations in the Treatment of Lung Disease,” the British Medical Journal stated that inhalation of steam was beneficial in treating acute bronchitis, laryngitis and croup.

Such scientific validation eventually turned into some homespun nuggets of wisdom. Many mothers have said to their children to breath in the medicinal vapors from a steaming bowl or jug to help ease the discomfort of a cold or nasal congestion.

The American Journal of Public Health in August 1991 cited 16 articles about the effects of sauna. Simply stated, warmth induces a feeling of euphoria, relaxation, and tranquility in many persons. Bathing in a sauna is a pleasant and relaxing experience, which combines psychic, physical, and social pleasures; reduces aggressive behavior; and enables bathers to forget the common pressures of everyday life.

Multiple tests conducted in England, India, Israel and the United States on the efficacy of steam (heated humidified air) inhalation showed relief from nasal symptoms typical of the common cold. British doctors from the Harvard Hospital in Salisbury subjected 87 patients with acute nasal and upper respiratory symptoms to humidified air at 110 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes at 2-hour intervals. The result of the tests was that inhaling hot humidified air, or steam, could relieve the common cold, respiratory infections and clear the nasal passages.

Some studies have suggested that long-term sauna bathing may help lower blood pressure in patients with hypertension and improve left ventricular ejection fraction in patients with chronic congestive heart failure. It also states that sauna bathing is safe for most people with coronary artery disease, stable angina pectoris or MI (myocardial infarction)[1]

The Canadian Medical Association Journal in a December 2003 published a peer-reviewed study said that a 10-minute immersion in a hot tub is likely safe for most people with hypertension controlled with drug treatment. Doctors tested 18 men and 3 women with ages ranging 43-76 who all had hypertension. Each was subjected to a 10-minute immersion in hot tub at 104 degrees Fahrenheit.  None reported heart palpitations, dizziness or chest pains. This meant that even hyper intensive patients could enjoy a 10-minute dip in a hot tub and have their blood pressure lowered no more than those with no hypertension.

The only caveat is that it be done with no traces of alcohol, drugs or any other medication in the system. Other risk factors include heart disease, seizure disorders, and those who are significantly obese. People who are over 65 years of age must also limit their spa treatments to no more than 10 minutes.

Herbalized steam baths are even included in the literature of natural or alternative medicine. It is part of an arsenal of physical therapies for physiological purification that include herbal massages, external heat application and gastrointestinal elimination therapies.

So from the ancient to the modern world, and for the future, all the accompanying benefits of heated water have served man throughout the years. Great leaps in technology and innovative engineering have combined to deliver the greatest benefits that the spa, sauna, whirlpool and Jacuzzi have to offer.


1. The Health Hazards of Saunas and

Spas and How to Minimize Them

By Edward Press, MD, MPH

American Journal of Public Health, Vol.81, No. 8, August 1991

2. Beneficial effects of sauna bathing for heart failure patients

By Nava Blum PhD, Arnon Blum MD

Clinical Cardioogy: Review Vol. 12 No. 1 2007

3. A brief history of spa therapy

A van Tubergen, S van der Linden

Department of internal medicine, Division of Rheumatology, University Hospital, Maastricht, Maastricht, The Netherlands

25 September 2001

4. Are hot tubs safe for people with treated hypertension?

Tae Won Shin, Merne Wilson, Thomas W. Wilson

Canadian Medical Association Journal, Dec. 9, 2003, pp. 1265-67


5. Effects of steam inhalation on nasal patency and nasal symptoms in patients with the common cold

Ophir D, Elad Y.

American Journal of Otolaryngology, May –June 1987, p. 149-53

6. Heated, humidified air for the common cold

Singh M.

Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarth, Sector 12, Chandigarth, India, 160012$=relatedarticles&logdbfrom=pubmed

7. Local hyperthermia benefits natural and experimental common colds.

D. Tyrrell, I. Barrow, and J. Arthur

Medical Research Council Common Cold Unit, Harvard Hospital, Salisbury


8. Improvements in Chronic Diseases With a Comprehensive Natural Medicine Approach: A Review and Case Series

Tony Nader, MD, PhD, Stuart Rothenberg, MD, Richard Averbach, MD, Barry Charles, MD, Jeremy Z. Fields, PhD, and Robert H. Schneider, MD

Beneficial effects of sauna bathing for heart failure patients By Nava Blum PhD, Arnon Blum MD

Clinical Cardioogy: Review Vol. 12 No. 1 2007


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