Sauna and fungal infections: How to stay safe and minimize risks
- Saunas, with their high temperature and humidity, provide an environment that can be both conducive and inhibitory to fungi. The extreme temperatures can kill many types of fungi, while the sweating creates a moist environment that fungi like.
- Personal hygiene, such as showering thoroughly and drying off after using the sauna, is critical to minimizing the risk of fungal infection.
- If a fungal infection is present, sauna use should be avoided, and if there are signs of infection, it is advisable to seek medical attention.
What are fungal infections?
Fungal infections, also known as mycoses, are diseases caused by the penetration and growth of fungal spores in the body. These infections can be superficial, affecting only the outer layers of the skin, or systemic, affecting internal organs.
Fungi are found everywhere in our environment, both outdoors and indoors. While many fungi are harmless or even beneficial to humans, some types can cause disease, especially when the immune system is weakened or when they invade certain areas of the body where they are not normally found.
Sauna environment: heat and humidity
Saunas are known for their hot and often humid environments. This combination of heat and humidity usually creates an ideal environment for many microorganisms, including fungi, to thrive. At first glance, therefore, one might assume that saunas are breeding grounds for fungal infections.
However, there are some factors that challenge this assumption:
- Extreme temperatures: although fungi like heat and humidity, the extremely high temperatures in saunas are often too intense for many species of fungi. These temperatures can inhibit fungal growth or even kill them.
- Short Exposure Time: People typically spend a limited amount of time in saunas, which may not be enough to allow infection, especially considering that the extreme temperatures kill many fungi.
- Wood surfaces: Many saunas are covered with wood on the inside. Wood has natural antimicrobial properties that can inhibit the growth of fungi.
- Regular cleaning: saunas, especially in commercial facilities, are cleaned and disinfected regularly, which further reduces the risk of fungal contamination.
- Drying cycles: between sauna sessions, saunas often have drying cycles where moisture evaporates and the environment becomes less favorable for fungi.
How does the sauna affect fungal infections?
- Heat: The optimal temperature for the growth of most fungi is between 20 °C and 30 °C. However, some pathogenic fungi can grow at higher temperatures. Saunas typically have temperatures between 70 °C and 100 °C, which is well above the optimal growth temperature for most fungi. At these temperatures, many species of fungi are killed or at least their growth is greatly inhibited.
- Drying effect: Fungi are microorganisms that prefer moist environments. A moist environment provides the ideal breeding ground for fungal growth and reproduction. Therefore, areas of the body that tend to remain moist, such as the spaces between the toes or the groin region, are often affected by fungal infections. After a sauna session, the body sweats intensely. This sweat, if not removed, can create a moist environment on the skin that is conducive to fungus. Drying the sweat is therefore an important step in reducing the risk of fungal infection.
Precautions for sauna users
- Shower thoroughly before and after using the sauna to remove fungal spores. You should also pay attention to special areas of the body such as between the toes and armpits, as fungi particularly like to settle here.
- Use an antimicrobial soap when showering to further reduce the risk of fungal infection.
Towels and clothing:
- Always use clean towels and clothing and do not share them with others. Damp towels provide an ideal environment for fungi and other microorganisms to grow.
- Allow towels and swimwear to dry completely after using the sauna before using them again to prevent fungal growth.
- Bathing shoes should be worn in public saunas and showers to avoid direct contact with the floor where fungal spores can accumulate.
- Be sure to clean and disinfect your bathing shoes regularly to prevent the accumulation of fungal spores.
For acute infections:
- If you have an acute fungal infection, especially if it is open and inflamed, avoid using the sauna to prevent further irritation or spread of the infection.
- If you notice signs of a fungal infection, see a dermatologist or primary care physician for appropriate treatment and advice on how to avoid future infections.
Going to the sauna can be safe, even if you are suffering from a fungal infection, if used properly and hygiene measures are followed. However, you should always consult a doctor or dermatologist if you are unsure.
Note: This article provides general information and is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always consult a medical specialist if you have any health concerns.
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