Steam inhalation is a method of introducing warm, moist air into the lungs via the nose and throat for therapeutic benefit. Essential oils are often added to provide additional relief. Ancient Egyptians recognized the good therapeutic effects of inhalation therapy through the use of public baths. Steam inhalation has since become a simple and effective home remedy for various health issues.
Inhaling steam is a great treatment for respiratory complications and is recommended for dealing with common cold, flu, bronchitis, sinusitis, asthma, and allergies. Dry air passages are moistened, and mucus is loosened/eliminated easier by coughing or blowing the nose. The moist air also alleviates difficulty breathing, throat irritation and inflammation.
An expectorant increases the amount of secretions, resulting in clearer secretions and as a result, lubricates the irritated respiratory tract. The inhalation of steam significantly benefits the lungs and throat by acting like an effective natural expectorant. This helps to relax muscles, thereby relieving coughing. Inhaling steam is also necessary for preventing excessive drying of the mucous membranes.
When the body’s temperature rises, blood vessels begin to dilate. This encourages blood flow and overall circulation in the body. The increase in circulation can provide relief from headaches and migraines. The rise in temperature can also strengthen the immune system by stimulating the circulation of germ fighting white blood cells.
Pore cleansing and rejuvenation
As previously mentioned, steam inhalation improves circulation which can also improve the skin’s appearance. Additionally, the topical application of steam can be beneficial. Sebum is the natural oil that lubricates and moisturizes skin. When pores are clogged with sebum and other particles such as dirt and makeup, acne breakouts oftentimes appear. Steam softens these plugs and opens pores so that sebum can flow naturally and remove impurities. Steam also loosens the dead skin cells on the skin allowing new cells to emerge. The result is a soft, youthful glow.
Many find that aromatherapy provides more relief than steam alone. To alleviate symptoms, essential oils may be added to the steaming water. These are generally used sparingly, with only two to three drops being used at a time.
- For upper respiratory and sinus congestion: Peppermint, and/or eucalyptus
- For headaches: Chamomile and/or lavender
- For relaxation: Chamomile, lavender and/or lemongrass
- For oily skin: Chamomile, lemongrass, lavender, rosemary, anise, and/or fennel
- For dry skin: Fennel, rosemary, sea buckthorn, peppermint and/or comfrey
Enjoying steam inhalation
Thankfully, steam inhalation does not have to be complicated or expensive. A common method of inhaling steam is to boil a few cups of filtered water and then pour the steaming water into a large bowl. Essential oils can be added at this point if desired. Next, a towel can be placed over the head, while leaning over the bowl of water, breathing deeply through the nose for approximately 15 minutes. Humidifiers also provide a gentle form of steam inhalation.
Since very hot water is used, there is a burn risk associated with inhaling steam. For this reason, it is typically not recommended as a treatment for young children. Many doctors also advise against steam inhalation for pregnant women or people with high blood pressure and/or heart conditions.