What are the health risks of going to sauna?

Using steam for relaxation and or treatment has a long history of more than thousand years. In modern times, sauna baths are getting more and more popular across the world.

Dear Doctor,

Are there any health risks of visiting the sauna?

Musoni

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Dear Musoni,

Using steam for relaxation and or treatment has a long history of more than thousand years. In modern times, sauna baths are getting more and more popular across the world.

The modern sauna usually contains a room, where temperature is maintained >900 degrees at floor level and about 185 degrees at the top. The ventilation system changes the air, 3 to 8 times per hour.

Saunas are usually very dry. The dry heat has a profound effect on the body. The skin temperature rises very high immediately, but internal body temperature rises slowly and usually does not become so high. Due to the intense, sudden heat, sympathetic system is activated. This causes the heart to beat more rapidly and pump more blood. Most of this extra blood is directed towards the skin and is diverted from internal organs. . There is flushing, the blood pressure may rise or fall, but functioning of internal parts may be disturbed. All these changes resolve, when the body, “cools down”. But these sudden changes and rapid activity of the heart can precipitate heart problems in those who are prone to it like persons with hypertension. Therefore people having heart problems like rhythm abnormalities, angina, valve abnormalities, e.t.c. should check with their doctor before going for a sauna bath.

Elevated scrotal temperature in a sauna can potentially reduce sperm production. But this has not been validated. The dry air can cause dryness of skin and itching. Cross infection is also a potential risk in saunas used by many people, if proper cleanliness and hygiene is not maintained.

While enjoying a sauna it is good to follow some precautions. Avoid use of alcohol. Drink 2-3 glasses of cool water after each sauna. 15-20 minutes of sauna is reasonably good for an average person and should not be overdone. Avoid taking sauna, when you are sick. If you feel sick during a sauna, stop it immediately.

Dr Rachna Pande  is a specialist in internal medicine at Ruhengeri Hospital

 

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