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2018.11.21 - Can we sweat out an illness? /Cold weather is here, shall we go to the sauna?/

Can we sweat out an illness? /Cold weather is here, shall we go to the sauna?/

As the cold weather is approaching, we fancy going to the sauna more often, especially when we feel we are coming down with an illness. If we are lucky, our immune system is strong enough to overcome the illness that is about to begin. If we aren’t this lucky, we get the fever, we are sneezing and coughing. In the old days they used to say that fever is our friend, because it can help us fight the illness. Is it true that we can ‘sweat out’ an illness or is it just a misconception? Are we allowed to go to the sauna when we are ill? 


The situation is rather simple, but we have to be careful with the widespread belief that we can cure a cold with heat. It is true that cold isn’t good for our immune system, and it isn’t by accident that we are talking about catching the cold. In the winter period it is easier to get a sore throat and cough, and it is only in part the result of not eating enough fruits and vegetables, as cold weather and the fact that it gets dark early in the afternoon also weaken our immune system. It also has a negative effect on our body that we have to cope with a big temperature fluctuation: when we leave the flat, the temperature can be 20-25 °C lower. It is needless to say that it would also be bad if we had to stay in -5 °C all the time.

This is the reason why it is a good idea to go to the sauna regularly in the winter period, because having a sauna widens the blood vessels and thanks to this the tissues in our body receive enough blood; otherwise in the cold weather the blood vessels constrict to help conserve body heat. The human body produces a fever in order to make sure that while fighting an illness, the cells have enough nutrients and oxygen; the whole body is activated and it doesn’t operate in economical mode, since if there is a problem it must utilise all resources to kill the invading virus and bacteria. However, the fever is only our friend for a short time: if after battling the illness for a day or two the immune system wins, and everything is alright again, high fever becomes dangerous. We mustn’t go to the sauna when we have a fever, because we don’t need the extra heat we are exposed to in the sauna. Yes, the sauna is a healthy thing but it puts extra load on us. Accelerated metabolism and losing water causes fatigue to the body, just like doing sports. We don’t do sports when we are ill, in spite of the fact that sweating itself isn’t bad, but no one wants to become even weaker.


Thus the idea that one needs to sweat out an illness isn’t a stupid one, but we must know that too much heat can be dangerous for us. Sauna is absolutely recommended for the healthy body, just like physical exercise, because it can greatly contribute to staying healthy.  

It also matters what kind of sauna we choose on a cold autumn evening (or a morning) to preserve our health. Just like it matters how often and for how long we have a sauna. In general we can say that the more rounds we do in the sauna, the more relaxing it gets, but at the same time this also makes us tired; doing 1-2 rounds vitalises us and gives extra energy. It is also true that the higher the temperature in the sauna is, the stronger the detoxification effect is and the faster the blood flows in our veins – but in this case the load on the body is greater too. It is in the tepidarium where the physical load on the body is the smallest, because the temperature isn’t too high, therefore we can sit around for hours in the 30-40 °C heat. The steam bath affects us the same way as the sauna, but due to the high humidity level sweating isn’t as intense, so we lose less water and the load on us is smaller. The infrared sauna heats the deeper layers of the body too, and the detoxification effect is even stronger. All in all, everyone should choose a sauna type according to their taste and load-capacity, in order to prevent getting ill, to reduce the winter stress, to shape the body and to get rid of toxins in the body, but if we do get the fever, we should take a break from this excellent winter pastime!