Infrared saunas are a modern alternative to traditional steam saunas. Their heating power comes from infrared devices instead of conventional electric heaters or hot stones. These heaters use infrared waves to heat the user's body, not the air. Infrared saunas are considered dry saunas and do not use steam or water. However, the risks of infrared saunas are similar to those of conventional wet and dry saunas.
Infrared saunas provide heat up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit. While lower than traditional sauna heat, these high temperatures promote sweating and cause blood vessels to dilate. Spending too long in this hot environment can encourage overheating and conditions such as heatstroke and heat exhaustion. Sufferers may feel weak, confused, dizzy and nauseated. They may have increased heart rates and sweat profusely. Some people may eventually stop sweating and vomit frequently. Overheating can also cause shortness of breath and loss of consciousness. Sufferers should get out of the heat immediately and drink plenty of water and other non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic liquids.
According to Dr. Andrew Weil, founder of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, saunas can draw about a quart of water per hour out of the body, mostly in the form of sweat. Too much time in a sauna can cause dehydration, tiredness, thirst, dry mouth, dry skin and headache. Some people may feel dizzy and have elimination problems. Treat sauna-related dehydration by leaving the sauna immediately and consuming water or electrolyte solutions.
Too much heat in the early months of pregnancy has been linked with an increase in birth defects, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Temperatures above 101 degrees Fahrenheit could cause problems with your pregnancy. However, according to a study published in the February 2001 issue of "American Journal of Medicine," moderate sauna bathing is safe for healthy pregnant women who are not experiencing complications. Talk to your doctor before using an infrared sauna while pregnant, and monitor the temperature inside the sauna to reduce the risk of problems.
Infrared sauna bathing can actually help people with high blood pressure or heart disease, but can also be risky. Because saunas cause the blood vessels to dilate, they reduce blood pressure dramatically. This can result in hypotension, overly low blood pressure. Symptoms include dizziness, fainting, blurred vision and fatigue. Some people may also suffer from a lack of coordination, which can cause them to stumble or fall in the sauna. A sudden drop in blood pressure can increase the risk of problems in people with pre-existing heart conditions. Discuss infrared sauna use with your doctor if you already have high or low blood pressure, heart disease or other cardiovascular problems.
- DrWeil.com; Q&A Library -- A Better Way to Sweat?; Andrew Weil; August 2006
- FamilyDoctor.org; Heat Exhaustion and Heatstroke; Sept. 2000
- American Pregnancy Association: Using Saunas During Pregnancy
- MayoClinic.com; Dehydration; January 2011
- "American Journal of Medicine"; Benefits and Risks of Sauna Bathing; ML Hannuksela, et al.; February 2001
- MayoClinic.com; Low Blood Pressure (Hypotension); May 2009
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images
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