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For very many years, saunas have been extolled as “miracle boxes” because of the many health benefits that they offer. That sounds great (and who would turn down a session in the sweltering heat?) except for the fact that very few of these virtues have proven true, and some can be downright life-threatening! Join us as we look at some of the dangers of using a sauna. You just might find yourself saying “don’t sweat it”.
Burns in the sauna come from two sources. First, is from coming in direct contact with the heating source. These burns are, of course, immediately known and can be quite severe. Second, you can suffer burns from exposure to hot air (which can come close to 200 degrees Fahrenheit!). These burns are less likely, as you would just exit the sauna when you are too uncomfortable to stay. Life-threatening scenarios occur mostly due to a loss of consciousness (drug/alcohol use, heart attack).
Increased Core Body Temperature
Spending too much time in the sauna (20+ minutes) will raise your core body temperature. If the body can’t keep itself cool, your core temperature may rise to dangerous levels. When the body’s temperature rises past 103 degrees, cell damage can occur, and organs begin to shut down. The intestines may become more permeable, for example, allowing harmful bacteria to get into the bloodstream.
Effects On Reproduction
Once again, heat is the main risk to those involved in the process of conceiving children. Pregnant women should be aware that sauna use during early pregnancy may cause embryonic or fetal abnormalities. Men who are looking to conceive a child may want to think twice before using a sauna. As body heat rises, so does testicle temperature, and this has been known to reduce sperm count. Although the effect is reversible, it may not be immediately reversible. One study found that sperm count decreased and did not return to normal until five weeks after.
The “Weight-Loss” Myth
You’ve heard people say that using a sauna can “melt away the fat like butter” but in reality, the weight lost in a sauna is largely water weight and reductions in water weight are not effective or reliable forms of weight control. But that hasn’t stopped some people from trying. Once you re-hydrate your body, the weight will come back.
Don’t Drink The Water
Spending even a short time in the sauna is bound to make you thirsty. Make sure to bring your own bottled water. Some saunas or steam baths are connected to well water or otherwise non potable water that is to be used for washing, not drinking. This can lead to diarrhea at least, and bacterial infections, at worst.
Hot Spot For Organisms
Another risk of using a sauna depends upon the sanitary conditions. It is easy for organisms to flourish in such a warm, moist environment. This can prove to be a breeding ground for fungal infections such as athlete’s foot. There is a reported case of a young man who, after regularly using the sauna, developed fever and chills that progressed to shortness of breath and fatigue. This was because he regularly poured water over the sauna heat source, from a bucket that contained mold.
Avoid The Swedish Plunge
We’ve all seen this on the big or little screen. A person exits a sauna and immediately jumps into a pile of snow, or through a hole in an icy lake. It looks pretty extreme, and it may actually be exciting but, this isn’t safe for everyone. Anyone with cardiovascular issues should avoid the abrupt temperature change produced by an icy dip. There are many reported cases of people who have gone from the sauna to cold water and have experienced a heart attack as a result.
Other Negative Effects
As you can see, heat and sanitary conditions make up the leading risks but, there are other concerns to consider. For example, saunas may interfere with the body’s natural healing processes, so it’s recommended that they be avoided within 48 hours or so of an injury such as a sprain. Saunas will interrupt the proper distribution of medicine applied with patches, such as nicotine patches as profuse sweating can cause the medicine to transfer into your skin at doses much higher than recommended. Saunas may also cause unexpected fluctuations of insulin levels, so diabetics should always check their levels before and after using a sauna.