Sick after the sauna – The following reasons can be responsible for it

Taking a sauna is a widespread leisure activity that brings a number of benefits: it helps the body to relax more easily, improves blood circulation and increases overall health and well-being. However, if some sauna rules are not followed, there is a risk of getting sick after the sauna session.
Discomfort after sauna bathing

The three main causes of discomfort after a sauna session

  • Dehydration: intense sweating in the sauna leads to fluid loss, which can cause dehydration symptoms such as dizziness and headaches.
  • Overheating: sauna sessions that are too long or too hot can cause the body to overheat, which can cause discomfort or even heat stroke.
  • Pre-existing health conditions: people with certain health conditions such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease may be more sensitive to the extreme conditions in the sauna.

What is a sauna and how does it affect the body?

A sauna is an enclosed space where high temperatures are generated and delivered to perform dry or moist heat applications. The steam and high temperature relax the body and create a pleasant feeling. Even though some people report feeling unwell immediately after a sauna session, this is due to a variety of circumstances, which we will discuss later in this article.

Risk factors: can the sauna make you sick?

Proper sauna use does not in itself make you sick, but if your body is already suffering from health problems, a sauna visit may suggest, “The sauna made me sick.” Age-related changes in total body water content, a decreased sense of thirst, and impaired kidney function make older people more susceptible to dehydration due to these and other factors. People with diabetes are also more likely to be affected by dehydration.

Vulnerable groups to heat stress in the sauna

Individuals who are more sensitive to heat stress may experience dizziness and nausea during prolonged sauna use. This is due to the overheating of the body. Even worse, a prolonged stay can lead to heat stroke, which can cause severe physical damage to the patient. It is also possible that sauna use results in low blood pressure, as the body sends more blood to the surface of the skin to cool down. This lowers blood pressure, which can lead to dizziness, nausea and fatigue, as well as blurred vision and, in severe cases, unconsciousness.

Three reasons why you feel sick after a sauna session

Reason 1: You are dehydrated

If you feel unwell after a stay in the sauna or steam bath, there is a possibility that you are dehydrated. Sweating is one of the side effects, if not the main purpose of regular sauna or steam bath visits. The risk of dehydration is therefore very high, which is why you should drink plenty of water both before and after taking a sauna to avoid dehydration.

Signs of dehydration

Signs of dehydration include thirst, dry mouth, dark yellow urine when urinating or low urine volume when urinating, headache, muscle cramps, high heart rate, rapid breathing, dizziness, and a feeling of fainting or weakness. Illnesses that cause fever, vomiting or diarrhea can cause your body to lose large amounts of water and you should refrain from using the sauna during these symptoms to avoid dehydration.

How to avoid dehydration

Drinking plenty of water can prevent dehydration. When you drink water, some of it is immediately absorbed in your mouth, but most of it is absorbed when it is released from your stomach into your intestines. Depending on your genetic makeup and whether or not you have eaten anything, this can take anywhere from 5 to 45 minutes. When your stomach is empty, the water is more easily absorbed. Therefore, you should start drinking at least 45 minutes before going to the sauna, so that the liquid can be absorbed by the body.

Reason 2: The sauna is too hot for you and you have been in it for far too long

A regular sauna session should last between 10 and 15 minutes. Inexperienced sauna-goers should take it slow at first. If you are a beginner or you only sauna occasionally, it is recommended to start with a five-minute sauna session and then slowly increase. Even experienced sauna users may feel uncomfortable if they use the sauna for an extended period of time. If you sauna for 20 minutes or more and experience uncomfortable discomfort, you may have taken it too far. The greatest health benefits of a sauna session can be achieved in a 10- to 15-minute sauna session.

Adjust the sauna temperature

The temperature in a typical sauna should be between 60 and 100 degrees Celsius. The temperature of an infrared sauna is usually between 40 and 60 degrees Celsius. Even if your sauna is set at a reasonable temperature, you should lower the temperature if it is too hot for you. If you are using a public sauna and have no way to regulate the temperature, you can make up for it by taking a shorter sauna session than usual.

Heat is stress for the body

High air temperatures, radiant heat and high humidity are all factors that lead to heat stress. Problems with headaches or nausea after a sauna session are usually the result of excessive heat exposure. Due to high or low blood pressure, nausea or headache may occur when leaving the sauna. With a dehydrated body, there is always a risk of nausea and migraines. When taking a sauna, the body sweats excessively and extracts fluid from the body in the process. In this case, the body tries to cool the blood, resulting in improved blood circulation at the expense of lower blood pressure.

Tips to avoid dehydration and overheating in the sauna

When you go to the sauna, always listen to your body. Look for signs that indicate dehydration. If this is the case, drink plenty of water and give your body time to absorb it before going to the sauna. Make sure your sauna is set at an appropriate temperature, and start with small sessions that you slowly lengthen until your body gets used to it. Don’t overdo it; after all, you want your brain to release endorphins.

Safe sauna enjoyment: recognize and avoid additional risks for an optimal wellness experience

In addition to the risks already mentioned, such as dehydration and overheating, there are other issues such as circulation problems, skin irritation and the possibility of infection in public saunas. The warm and humid environment of a sauna can also be a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses, increasing the risk of infection.

Risk prevention:

To minimize these risks, certain precautions should be taken. These include:

  • Regular cleaning and disinfection of the sauna.
  • Using towels to avoid direct skin contact with the seating surfaces.
  • Limiting sauna sessions to avoid overheating and dehydration.
  • Refraining from drinking alcohol prior to sauna use, as alcohol can increase dehydration.

Interactions with health conditions:

  • People with certain health conditions should take extra care before using the sauna. For example, people with skin conditions, respiratory conditions or a weakened immune system may react differently to the extreme heat.
  • It is always advisable to seek the advice of a physician before beginning regular sauna use. This is especially important for people with pre-existing conditions or those taking medications that can affect body temperature or circulation.

National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)



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