We at Hyfe, Inc., are a company devoted to working on tools to better understand the importance of cough. It is Hyfe’s intention in the future to seek regulatory approval for medical products that analyze cough in order that they may be used to diagnose, monitor, and facilitate better treatment of respiratory illnesses.
Throughout history, steam has been employed for many purposes– cooking meals, powering appliances, or cleaning surfaces. Healthwise, steam therapy is an ancient method used to help with recovery from cough symptoms and is one of the easiest home remedies.
Steam therapy involves breathing in water vapors from warmed or continuously heated water. The warm vapour moisturizes the dry/stuffy mucus membranes in the nose and throat, which helps loosen mucus. This provides temporary relief from chest congestion and agitation during cough, flu, and cold.
Overall, steam therapy may provide temporary relief of respiratory symptoms.
There’s significant evidence that steam inhalation before bed can help with sleep. In a 2019 study, participants found1 this therapy eased bedtime anxiety, shortened the time taken to fall asleep (sleep latency), and improved the quality of rest. Think of when you’ve had a steamy shower and how your night’s sleep was more relaxing or day more productive afterward! Steam assists by providing relief for irritated stuffy nose and throat that may otherwise make it difficult for us to breathe and keep us up late at night.
Steam opens up nasal passages. In addition to helping to loosen up mucus and phlegm, the hot, humid air may also lessen throat and lung inflammation; also, it's commonly recognized that steam rooms have the potential to be expectorants2. Evidence suggests that steam therapy can significantly relieve severe respiratory distress3 in some patients. It may also be beneficial for athletes who have a history of exercise-induced asthma.
Steam therapy is good for the nose and throat. For the nose, it helps ease the feeling of a blockage and soothes the irritation in your nasal passages. Moisture in the steam thins mucus in your sinuses4, allowing normal breathing. When you have a cold, it can help get rid of cold symptoms like a sore throat, a stuffy nose, and a mild headache.
Steam therapy can provide temporary relief of particular symptoms and conditions such as:
The conventional way of doing steam therapy requires at least the following equipment:
Then, you can dive into the process as follows:
Avoid steaming for longer than 10 to 15 minutes at a time. However, you can perform steam therapy two or three times in a day.
Other steam therapy techniques include:
Portable steam inhalers, commonly referred to as vaporizers, have particularly gained popularity as using a steam inhaler is easy and convenient. Using electrical heat, the vaporizer creates steam that is warmed before it leaves the device. Some vaporizers have a built-in mask that fits over the mouth and nose, meaning there is no need for a towel. Vaporizers need to be washed and cleaned often to avoid bacterial or fungal growth14.
Although steam therapy is helpful for colds and sinus problems, care must be taken. Here are a few risks and side effects associated with steam inhalation:
Accidentally spilling the bowl of hot water into your lap is perhaps the biggest risk because it can result in severe burns to your body. So, be careful while placing the hot water bowl, container, or steamer. Consider placing the water at a distance from your body, in the middle of a table so if it spills it won’t hit you.
This is particularly a risk for children. Scalds that result can eventually result in hospitalization, surgery, and permanent disfigurement. During the COVID-19 lockdown, a number of children15 were hospitalized because of burn injuries caused by steam inhalation16.
Long periods of steam inhalation affect the supply of blood to the eyes and cause swelling or redness through causing the capillaries (small blood vessels) to expand. Also, steam that is too hot can burn the eyes17
Peforming steam inhalation for a long time can negatively affect your skin as it opens the pores, making it potentially more likely that certain bacterial strains can get in to clog them up18, causing acne, redness, and itching.
Steam vaporizers can easily harbor bacteria and viruses, which could lead to infection. Always consult your pharmacist on best ways of usage and storage, and regularly clean out your vaporizer.
Steam may help with nasal congestion that may be causing your cough by dripping down the back of your throad (upper airway cough syndrome/post-nasal drip). But if the nasal congestion is chronic, you may need to do nasal irrigation20 to flush the excess mucus out from the nasal cavity.
Because the warmth and moisture can temporarily soothe the mucous membranes lining the nose, many people find it soothing to breathe in (inhale) steam, while putting in products like chamomile22, peppermint oil23, menthol24, and other herbs.
Steam introduces warm, moist air into the lungs. The moisture may also help break up the mucus in your sinuses.
The use of salt in steam therapy is called ‘halotherapy’ or salt therapy. Salt has a well-known antiseptic, antiinflammatory, and antibacterial effects, which has caused it to be considered as an alternative treatment for pulmonary problems and skin illnesses.
However, the American Lung Association26 suggests that, while there are a lot of theories on how the tiny salt particles being inhaled could kill off27 microorganisms in the lungs to reduce inflammation28 and decreasing mucus, the scientific evidence is not enough.
However, Dr. Norman Edelman, Senior Scientific Advisor to the American Lung Association, suggests that it could be more than a placebo effect. Most people with obstructive lung disease, such as asthma or COPD, cough sputum (a thick mixture of saliva and mucus), and trying to bring it up can be difficult, frustrating, and upsetting. Dr. Edelman suggests that it's possible that salt therapy offers relief to these symptoms29.Before trying halotherapy, talk to your doctor so they can advise you if it’s a good option based on your medical history.
Steam inhalation is a natural, economical, and effective method for providing relief to a variety of cough and cold symptoms. Moreover, several steam inhalers and humidifiers make it easier than ever. However, always consult your physician before doing steam therapy, especially if you are under any other medical treatment or on medication.References
Marion is a freelance health and wellness writer with a passion for all things digital health. She loves diving deep into the latest research and trends in the industry and distilling them down into fun, relatable pieces that people can relate to. Whether you're a health nut or a tech geek, she is always looking for new and interesting ways to help readers access quality and evidence-based information.