Two women in a steamy sauna, next to one of them is an inhaler

Is It Okay To Use A Hot Tub, Sauna, or Bath?

Something about submerging in warm water is pure magic. It is such a simple concept, but soaking in a bath, hot tub, hot spring, or even going in a sauna instantly makes me feel gratitude and bliss. My partner (who has asthma) and I love indulging in warm water soaks, and even enjoy dry heat saunas every once in a while. However, if his asthma is flared up, he needs to be careful about his exposure to steam, humidity, and heat.

A hot shower can certainly be an asthma trigger since it produces a high amount of steam in a small, enclosed space. For some, this can be avoided as a trigger by taking a warm (not hot) shower, turning on a fan, or opening a door or window. Hot tubs, saunas, steam rooms, and baths all produce steam, but differently than a shower. How does each of these things affect asthma?

Hot tub

Hot tubs typically run at a temperature of 90-105 degrees, and therefore produce steam. Chances are when you use a hot tub, you’re using a public one at a hotel, country club, apartment complex, etc. If this is the case, you don’t have much control of the chemicals being used in the hot tub. Certain chemicals, such as chlorine and bromine, are necessary to kill germs.1 Unfortunately, since a hot tub emits steam, these chemicals can be released through the steam and inhaled. Exposure to chemical smells can be a trigger for asthma.2

Have you heard of hot tub lung? Yikes! Hot tub lung is the inflammatory reaction of the lungs to droplets of water that contain bacteria. It is not an infection in the lungs, but rather a reaction. Experiencing hot tub lung can cause asthma-like symptoms such as shortness of breath and a cough. It can be treated by simply avoiding hot tubs; sometimes the use of corticosteroids is required.3

Sauna and steam rooms

For starters, there are different types and styles of saunas. Saunas use infrared rays or a warm air temperature to heat the body. This type of sauna is typically made out of wood and looks like a wood box. Steam rooms, commonly confused with saunas, heat the body through a steam generator. The heat comes from the hot steam and creates a humidity of 100% within the steam. Steam rooms typically have tiled floors and glass walls, and are commonly found in gyms. The main difference between saunas and steam rooms is that one is dry (a sauna) and one is wet (steam room).4

If you have asthma, it depends on your triggers whether or not you should use a sauna or steam room. If high humidity and heat trigger your asthma, a steam room would probably be best to avoid. Dry heat can also be a trigger; therefore, a sauna might not be a great idea. If you are trying either of these for the first time, it may be wise to limit your time to test how your body and asthma react. Be sure to keep your inhaler nearby!

Taking a bath

A bath does still emit steam, but it is typically not as hot as a hot tub. Steam from a bath can still make a bathroom humid and steamy. However, a bath releases less steam than a shower. In a study done on participants with asthma who bathed daily, it was found that "the effects of bathing in asthmatic patients widely differed from patient to patient and their etiology includes several factors".5 In those who experienced asthma symptoms from taking a bath, vapor inhalation accounted for 89.5% of the contributing factors.5

If you’re looking to enjoy a good soak in warm water, a bath may be the best option for you. A bath offers the option to relax, but can also be used as an alternative to taking a shower if hot showers are typically a trigger for you.

Does steam bother your asthma?

It is nearly impossible to make a blanket statement about what is okay or not okay for someone with asthma. Dry heat can be an asthma trigger for some, but others cannot be exposed to steam and humidity. A bath and hot tub might feel great for my partner and not trigger his asthma, but it could be a trigger for your asthma.

If you are unsure if a hot tub, sauna, or bath is okay for your asthma, be sure to keep your inhaler nearby. Rather than going in a sauna for 30 minutes straight, maybe experiment with just going in for a few minutes. As always, it is important to listen to your body and pay attention to the early warning signs of a potential asthma attack. If you have a strong concern about trying to use a hot tub, bath, or sauna, bring this up in the next conversation you have with your doctor!

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