Why Is It Hard to Breathe in a Steam Room? (Plus 10 Tips to Help)

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You’re probably used to feeling short of breath after a good workout. But you’re not alone if you feel like you can’t breathe in a steam room. 

The soothing environment that’s intended to relax your body and mind might ironically make breathing a bit challenging.

If you’re asking, “Why is it hard to breathe in a steam room?” the simple answer is because of the high levels of heat and humidity.

The thick, humid air can make it hard for you to breathe normally in a steam room, especially if you have asthma. Plus, the steam room may not have proper ventilation, which could result in lower oxygen levels inside the enclosed space.

In this article, we’ll dive deeper into the reasons why it’s difficult to breathe in a steam room. We’ll also explore how to breathe in a steam room to provide.

Understanding a Steam Room

As the name implies, a steam room uses steam to provide moist heated air in the space.  The jungle-like conditions inside a steam room provide benefits for skins, muscles and overall sense of well-being. 

These rooms use a boiler or heating element to create the steam, which provides the desired temperature and humidity.  Steam rooms are typically maintained at temperatures ranging from 100 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity levels close to 100%. 

A steam room is generally equipped with benches to allow guests to relax.

The combination of heat and humidity in a steam room can provide a feeling of rejuvenation. However, for some individuals, the humid heat can cause a sense of breathlessness.

Is a Sauna the Same as a Steam Room

Saunas and steam rooms are similar in that they both utilize heat heat-based therapies for relaxation and potential health benefits, but they operate differently in terms of the type of heat they produce and the overall experience they offer.

Understandably so, saunas and steam rooms are often confused as being the same.  Confusion typically arises since they both utilize heat-based therapies for relaxation and therapeutic benefit.

However, in general saunas utilize dry heat with low humidity, while steam rooms provide moist heat with high humidity.  Due to the differences in humidity, saunas will typically operate at higher temperatures of up to 195°F compared to steam rooms which run upwards of 120°F.

In some instances, the term “wet sauna” is used to describe a sauna that uses moist heat.  Ultimately, a wet sauna is pretty much synonymous with a steam room.

Why Is It Hard to Breathe in a Steam Room?

The difference between heat and humidity in a steam room and the air outside is significant. Which is why breathing in a steam room can be difficult. Furthermore, there are other possible reasons why you can’t breathe properly in a steam room.

Let’s take a closer look at each reason.

Heat and Humidity

When there’s high humidity, the air becomes thicker with moisture. This makes it difficult for you to breathe because your lungs have to work harder to suck in oxygen. 

Plus, the heat in a steam room can make it difficult for your body to cool down, leading to heat exhaustion.  The air is saturated with moisture, making it more challenging for sweat on your body to evaporate effectively.   

Respiratory System Changes

When you breathe in hot, humid air, your nasal passages and airways can expand slightly due to the warmth. While this can increase the flow of air, it can also lead to a sensation of restricted airflow, making it feel like you’re not getting enough oxygen.

Heat Stress

Your body must work harder to maintain a normal temperature during high heat and humidity.  

As your body heats up, it diverts blood flow to the skin to facilitate cooling through sweat evaporation. This shift in blood flow can affect the amount of oxygen reaching your muscles and organs, contributing to a feeling of breathlessness.

Asthma Triggers

Another reason you might have difficulties breathing in a steam room is if you’re asthmatic. Heat and moisture may trigger your asthma, making it feel nearly impossible for you to breathe in a steam room.

However, not all asthmatic people experience difficulty breathing in a steam room. That’s because there are various triggers for asthma. Therefore, it’s crucial to know what triggers your asthma to avoid it.

If you’re not sure how heat and humidity affect your asthma, you can first try going inside a steam room for a few minutes. Then, focus on your body signals that might indicate an oncoming asthma attack. 

Finally, if you feel unwell, leave the steam room immediately.

Reduced Ventilation

By default, we breathe in oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide. This is because, in normal conditions, there’s so much oxygen in the air for your lungs to inhale. 

Conversely, when you stay for too long in a closed or poorly ventilated room, the carbon dioxide you exhale starts to fill the air in the room.

When the carbon dioxide levels are higher than oxygen in the air, you start to feel dizzy or lightheaded. It’s the same as putting a plastic bag around your head. If the bag is too tight, it will reduce the airflow and oxygen supply.

Proper ventilation is crucial in steam rooms and saunas. That’s because fresh oxygen from outside replaces the excess carbon dioxide in the room so that you can breathe normally.

That’s why poor ventilation is one of the main reasons you might have trouble breathing in a steam room.

What Are the Other Risks of Being in a Steam Room?

While steam rooms have many benefits, there are also some downsides. 

The biggest downside of steam rooms is that you can quickly become dehydrated. When your body doesn’t have enough water, it can’t function properly, leading to problems like dizziness and nausea.

Another risk of being in a steam room is that the high humidity levels can cause you to overheat. When your body reaches a specific temperature, it can’t cool itself down, leading to heat stroke.

Furthermore, the heat and humidity in a steam room provide adequate conditions for some bacteria and fungi to grow. Therefore, wearing shower shoes is recommended in the steam room to reduce contact with the floor.

In addition, some people might be more susceptible to the risks of a steam room, such as:

  • People with lung conditions such as asthma or COPD
  • People with heart conditions or high blood pressure
  • Pregnant women
  • People taking medication altering their mental state (tranquilizers or stimulants)

For those that haven’t had much experience in a steam room, it’s important to start slow.  Plan for shorter stints until you become accustomed to the conditions.

How to Breathe in a Steam Room?

If you are looking to start using a steam room, or would like to make the experience more enjoyable, a key factor is knowing how to breathe in a steam room.  If breathing feels restricted it can make people never want to go back into a steam room.

Here are some quick tips on how to breathe in a steam room.

1 – Hydration

While drinking water is important for everyday health, it becomes especially crucial when using a steam room.  The high temperature and humidity can lead to increased sweating and fluid loss.

Drink water before, during, and after your steam room session.  Try to drink at least 1 to 2 cups before and afterwards, and have water on-hand while actively using it.

Avoid drinking alcohol around the steam session as this can actually cause dehydration

2 – Avoid Stimulants 

Caffeine or other stimulants should be minimized ahead of steam room usage.  Both the steam room and caffeine can elevate your heart rate, which may be a bit too intense when combining them together.

Additionally, having an increased heart rate can result in a feeling of breathlessness.  This could make the steam room much less enjoyable.

3 – Avoid Eating a Big Meal

You should also avoid eating a large meal before going into a steam room.  

After a heavy meal, your body will need energy for digestion. But, at the same time, it’ll require energy to tolerate the intense heat in the steam room.

Oftentimes, the feeling of fullness after a meal can also make breathing slightly less comfortable.

4 – Relax and Acclimate

Once you’ve entered the steam room, take a moment to relax and let your body acclimate to the environment.  Allow yourself to adjust to the warm and humid air gradually.

5 – Deep Breathing

Practice deep breathing while in the steam room to take in more oxygen.  This will help ease the feeling of breathlessness.  

You can use the following process to breathe deeply:

1 – Inhale deeply through your nose, allowing your chest to rise as you fill your lungs with air.

2 – Exhale slowly through your mouth, focusing on completely emptying your lungs.

3 – As you exhale, try to relax your body and release any tension.

6 – Mindful Breathing

Be mindful of your breathing pattern.  Avoid rapid or shallow breathing, as this can contribute to feelings of discomfort. 

Focus on slow and controlled breathing. Count the duration of your inhales and exhales to create a rhythmic pattern. For example, inhale for a count of four, hold for a moment, and then exhale for a count of six.

Being mindful of your breathing can help reduce discomfort and enhance your relaxation.

7 – Take Breaks

It’s important to know your limits.  Overexertion can become dangerous in such hot and humid conditions.

Pay close attention to how your body is feeling. If you start feeling lightheaded, dizzy, or extremely uncomfortable, it’s essential to exit the steam room and cool down immediately. 

Intermittent breaks will allow you to cool down, catch your breath, and hydrate. 

8 – Shorter Sessions

Particularly if you’re new to the steam room experience, plan to keep steam room sessions short.  Even experienced users should limit their sessions to 10-15 minutes. 

Shorter sessions can help your body adjust without overwhelming your respiratory system.

9 – Routine Practice 

As you visit steam rooms more often, your body may gradually adapt to the environment.  Over time you may find breathing becomes easier.  

Continuing to practice will help build tolerance to the challenging conditions.

10 – Use Ventilated Openings

While most steam rooms are generally enclosed fairly tightly, some may have windows or doors.  If you find the conditions are becoming too overbearing, trying sitting near a door or window in order to get some fresh air.

Final Takeaway

Steam rooms can offer numerous benefits for relaxation and skin health.  However, it can be difficult to breathe in a steam room due to the warm humid air.

Risks such as dehydration and heat stroke are also associated with being in a steam room. So, if you’re going to be in a steam room, try to relax, take slow, deep breaths, drink plenty of water, and stay calm.

By following the tips provided, you can make the most of your steam room sessions while prioritizing your comfort and well-being.

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