How Sauna Use Affects Your Lungs

Medically reviewed by Dr. Justin Ternes
As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases made on our website.

Every day, we’re exposed to pollutants that aggravate and even damage our lungs. A range of health problems, MLD, short-term irritation to chronic lung diseases, can cause immense suffering. Sauna use directly affects the lungs to help you breathe better and be healthier. 

Saunas are good for your lungs, and spending time in a sauna can boost your respiratory health. In fact, sauna use has been shown to improve lung functioning and ease symptoms of respiratory illnesses like COPD and asthma.

Whether you prefer a sauna that’s dry or one that is humid, the heat of your sauna can be good for your lungs, in fact, we’ve argued that it has many benefits including the reduction of stress. Relaxing in a sauna can not only help ease annoying cold symptoms, but it can also even improve lung functioning in chronic respiratory diseases like asthma and COPD.

Can Saunas Be Good for Your Lungs?

Round wooden barrel bath stands in the forest on a summer day

Saunas offer many benefits. Not only are they relaxing and refreshing, but saunas can also improve your respiratory health. Relaxing in any type of sauna can keep your lungs healthy and vital and there are a few other things they can do as well including:

  • reducing the symptoms of temporary respiratory problems like the common cold, flu, or bronchitis
  • decrease risk of pneumonia
  • help improve lung functioning in diseases like asthma, recurring bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) 

Saunas benefit the lungs by increasing lung capacity, improving breathing rate and efficiency, decreasing inflammation, and reducing congestion. Saunas have been used for thousands of years, and sauna-users have long told stories of the health benefits of saunas.

Scientific evidence reveals that there is a lot of truth to these claims. Numerous studies, published in scientific journals worldwide, have pointed to the respiratory benefits of saunas. While researchers still don’t know specific details explaining exactly how or why saunas are good for your lungs, many have found solid evidence that sauna use does indeed improve lung functioning among a few other health benefits.

For example, in 2018, the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings published a comprehensive research review analyzing the results of multiple international studies into the health benefits of sauna use. Among the scientific findings reported in this journal:

  • In a study involving 12 men with COPD, sauna use temporarily improved lung functioning 
  • Another showed that sauna use benefited people with asthma and with COPD
  • Yet another study found that saunas can reduce the risk of pneumonia

Other studies also support sauna use for lung diseases. According to a study reported in 2014 in the International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, adding sauna sessions to the treatment of COPD improves lung function better than standard medication treatment alone.

People once questioned whether people with asthma should spend time in a sauna. A 1990 volume of the journal Pneumologie highlights a study that found that using a sauna is safe for people with asthma. Two different 2017 studies highlighted the ability of saunas to decrease the risk of pneumonia: 

  • One report in the European Journal of Epidemiology revealed that using a sauna for 15 minutes twice weekly decreases pneumonia risk by 30 percent, and increasing to four times weekly lowers the risk of pneumonia by 40 percent. 
  • Another analysis examined a previously conducted study of over 2,000 Finnish male sauna users and the health benefits they enjoyed because of their sauna use. Analysts discovered that these men had a lower risk of developing pneumonia than their non-sauna using peers. 

Put simply, sauna users and researchers alike agree that saunas are good for the lungs. It’s important to be aware, though, that a dirty sauna will actually hurt your respiratory system because you risk breathing in bacteria and mold spores. Learning how to clean your sauna properly on the site – will keep your experience healthy. 

How Does the Heat of the Sauna Affect Lungs?

Heat is the number one reason saunas are good for the lungs, in fact, this is also the reason it’s good for cellulite as we’ve explained before. Regardless of how they’re heated or whether they’re dry or humid, saunas increase your body temperature. In response to the heat, heart rate and blood pressure rise, and blood vessels dilate.

Circulation speeds up and becomes more efficient. For your lungs, this means that they’re experiencing the warmth and improved blood flow. This helps your lungs in multiple ways. The heat of a sauna affects the muscles of your lungs much like warming up before strenuous exercise helps the muscles of your body. It conditions them and improves how they work. 

Sauna heat causes airways in your lungs to open. Pulmonary blood vessels start to perform better and more efficiently. As a result, any inflammation you may have in your lungs because of illness or breathing in environmental irritants decreases. Heat also keeps your lungs healthy by destroying germs. Bacteria and viruses die when exposed to heat equivalent to sauna temperatures.

Most traditional saunas are between 65 and 90 degrees Celsius (150-195 degrees Fahrenheit). Spending 15 minutes in a sauna that is 65 degrees Celsius (150 degrees Fahrenheit) will destroy most viruses and bacteria. While the room temperature of an infrared sauna is lower, the heating effect within your body is the same. 

How Does the Moist Air of the Sauna Affect Lungs?

Bearded Man Meditating in the Sauna

While not all saunas are considered wet, some, such as Turkish saunas and steam rooms, use humidity and heat. Moist heat may be better than dry heat for lung conditions like colds and flu. The hot, moist environment of a wet sauna helps loosen mucus from lung tissues to aid in draining and improve congestion.

The humidity is also great for reducing coughs. Like heat, moist air can reduce irritating and disease-causing inflammation. There’s a misconception that moist sauna air causes bronchoconstriction (narrowing of the bronchial tubes in your lungs), aggravating asthma.

In 1989, a group of doctors treating patients with lung conditions observed that sitting in a moist sauna actually seemed to help, so they conducted their own small study to examine the direct effects of a sauna on lungs. They found that the sauna does improve, rather than worsen, lung functioning. Their findings appeared in the journal Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

Some people prefer moist heat to dry saunas, finding them more comforting and soothing especially. This doesn’t mean, though, that dry saunas don’t help your lungs. Both types of heat can be extremely beneficial to lung health and functioning. 

What About Dry Heat Saunas and Lungs?

Dry heat saunas, whether a traditional Finnish sauna or an infrared sauna, are good for the lungs. Traditional saunas do use an occasional dose of water over the heater to produce a short burst of steam, but the steam only serves to increase the room’s heat. Not enough is produced or maintained to increase humidity. Infrared saunas use light to penetrate the skin and heat the body directly.

While the room temperature of an infrared sauna is cooler than in a traditional sauna, both cause body temperature to rise. It’s your internal temperature that affects your lungs. Dry heat has been shown to increase both lung capacity and overall function and decrease inflammation.

While the humidity of wet saunas can help colds and flu, so, too can dry saunas. Dry saunas can also improve the symptoms of allergic rhinitis (hay fever or seasonal allergies) and can help chronic lung diseases. In a 2008 study appearing in the Journal of Cardiology, researchers found that dry heat improved lung functioning in people with COPD in many ways, including:

  • Increasing the speed of exhalations
  • Boosting participants’ ability to exercise
  • Improved oxygen levels in the blood during and after physical activity
  • Decreased pulmonary artery pressure during work-outs

Dry saunas can improve the ability of people with COPD and other lung conditions to live an active life. An active lifestyle, in turn, is linked to better overall health and wellness, however, how saunas affect the respiratory system is worth diving into on its own.

How Does Sauna Use Affect the Whole Respiratory System?

Your respiratory tract involves more than just your lung and includes your nose, nasal passages, mouth, throat, airways into and within the lungs, and larynx (voice box), too. Saunas have been part of physical therapy for respiratory system disorders for over 100 years.

Sauna use is also associated with decreased risk of developing respiratory disorders in the first place. Sitting in the heat of a sauna, whether moist or dry, enlarges blood vessels through the respiratory system. This allows for more healthy blood flow, delivery of oxygen and other nutrients, and removal of toxins. 

Saunas can help you breathe better. If you have a cold, sitting in the sauna can clear your nose, throat, and chest, improving congestion and reducing coughs. Spending time in a sauna regularly can even reduce the need for cold medicine. Individual sauna users frequently report these benefits, and in 2010, researchers published a study in the Medical Journal of Australia that supported these claims.

Saunas can also help improve seasonal allergies. A 2018 study in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine showed that a six-week sauna treatment routine helped the nasal passages and increased airflow rates to improve breathing. Sauna use also keeps your whole respiratory system healthy and functioning properly.

Increased circulation has been shown to reduce oxidative stress in the whole body. Oxidative stress means that you have more damaging, disease-promoting free radicals than antioxidants in your body. Saunas help get rid of these free radicals so the antioxidant foods you eat and supplements you might take can better do their job of keeping you healthy. 

Measuring Lung Health Changes from Sauna Use

Sauna users and researchers alike tout the benefits of sauna use for lung and respiratory health. But don’t take their word for it. You can measure your own lung capacity to see how it changes over time as a way of monitoring your own health. Use a simple tool like the Deep Breathing Lung Exerciser (on Amazon).

Keep it handy in your sauna, and use a Sharpie to mark dates so you can see how sauna use is helping your own lungs. Using a sauna regularly is a pleasant way to boost your overall health. Maintain healthy lungs and respiratory system to feel your best and live an active life. 

Leave a Comment