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What Is Steam Therapy?

By C. Mitchell
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Steam therapy is a predominantly medical treatment prescribed for sufferers of a wide variety of ailments, from hypertension and allergies to cancer and arthritis. Some spas and wellness centers also offer steam therapy as a means of relaxation and body detoxification. The main object of steam therapy is to expose the skin to hot water vapor, which can induce temporary fever, open pores, and promote oxygenation of the blood stream. Treatment can be as informal as sitting in a steam room or standing for an extended time in a hot shower, but is typically administered with a specially-designed steam therapy machine.

In most cases, the steam used in steam therapy is little more than water vapor heated up to a certain temperature, usually at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit (about 38 degrees Celsius). Patients are exposed to the steam in enclosed spaces for anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, depending on the desired result. Sometimes, additives are added to the steam for improved effect. Ozone steam therapy, for instance, incorporates half-life ozone, known for its detoxification and body purification principles. Aromatherapy oils can also be added to steam — particularly steam meant to be inhaled — to improve the relaxing effect.

Steam inhalation is predominantly used in aesthetic, elective spa treatments. In a spa setting, clients often sit in a dedicated steam room or steam bath and are instructed to breathe deeply and relax. The warm steam causes the skin’s pores to open up, which enables it to better absorb moisture. The steam can also humidify and stimulate the lungs. Clients often leave steam room therapy or steam bath therapy feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and relaxed.

These same relaxation benefits may also come to medical steam therapy patients, though they are rarely the main goal. In most clinical settings, detoxification and bloodstream re-balancing is the main objective. These results are achieved in most cases by simulating fever.

A medical steam therapy machine is a box-like contraption into which patients are enclosed up to their necks. Sometimes these machines orient patients in a standing position, while others are designed to be used while lying down. The steam is confined to the body, leaving the head and face unaffected.

When the patient’s skin is exposed to hot steam in the medical steam treatment, its pores begin to open up and the body begins to sweat as if it has developed a fever. So long as the steam is present, that sweat cannot evaporate. This often has the effect of forcing the body’s immune system to kick into high gear, and toxins and foreign chemicals can be more quickly swept out of the body. Steam therapy of this variety is particularly useful for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Cancer patients may also benefit from ozone steam therapy, where partially deactivated ozone is infused into the water before it is steamed. This allows ozone to more easily pass into the blood stream, providing extra oxygen to stressed organs and tissues. Ozone steam can also be beneficial for patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, kidney failure, or a host of other organ ailments.

Extended exposure to steam is also routinely prescribed for arthritics. The warmth of the steam can cause joints to soften and lubricate, temporarily relieving pain and pressure. Even common infections and diseases can be cured — or at least helped along — by regular exposure to steam. When controlled, there are very few side effects to steam as a treatment.

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Discussion Comments
By turquoise — On May 10, 2014

@burcinc-- It depends on what you want to use steam therapy for.

I do basic steam therapy at home whenever I am coughing or when I have an upper respiratory infection. It's very easy. I just fill up a basin with hot boiled water, add a drop or two of eucalyptus oil and put my head over it. I cover my head with a towel to prevent steam from escaping and breathe in deeply. I continue for at least fifteen minutes, taking a break once in a while when the heat is too much.

The steam usually makes me cough a lot but that means it's working. Steam breaks up mucus in the lungs and helps the body get rid of it. I feel so much better after doing this. If you are looking for this type of steam therapy, you can do the same thing at home.

By burcinc — On May 09, 2014

Is there an easy and cheap way to do steam therapy? I can't afford to visit spas or use stem therapy machines.

By ZipLine — On May 09, 2014

I don't agree that steam therapy helps with hypertension, especially if i involves spending time in a hot sauna or steam room.

I was at a sauna steam room last weekend for about twenty minutes. I literally forced myself out of there because I felt unwell. I had trouble breathing and was completely red. There was a nurse at the hotel where the sauna was located and she took my blood pressure. It was high at 165/100 mm Hg. I try to keep my blood pressure at 120/80 which is normal blood pressure for adults.

So I would like to warn those with hypertension and high blood pressure about steam therapy. Please be careful if heat is involved.

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