Steam rooms are commonplace in many fitness facilities and even some private homes. They are commonly used for a wide range of purposes from relaxation of the muscles to alternative healing. When using a steam room for any purpose, it’s important to understand the possible risks in order to prevent possible serious side effects.
Steam rooms typically are kept at a lower temperature than a dry sauna at approximately 100 to 110 degrees F (in comparison to the 170 to 180 degrees F of a dry sauna). If temperatures of a steam room grow higher than 110 degrees, risks increase of skin burn as the heated water droplets make contact with the skin.
Your body uses a complex cooling system to keep the body at a safe internal temperature. This cooling system relies on sweat. As your body temperature increases in a steam room, the body compensates by activating the sweat glands of your skin to produce sweat. This process continues as long as your body temperature remains above optimal levels. If you do not replace the fluids lost by this process, dehydration can occur.
Steam rooms can also impact your blood pressure. Another method the body employs to reduce body temperature is dilating your blood vessels. As blood vessels dilate, blood is directed towards the surface of the skin where it can be cooled. As blood vessels dilate, blood pressure can drop dramatically, according to the Mayo Clinic. For those with low blood pressure problems, this can be particularly dangerous.
Heat stroke is a common concern related with steam rooms. As your body temperature rises in internal temperature and sweating or blood vessel dilation is unsuccessful at returning your temperature to normal, heat stroke may occur. Heat stroke can occur when the steam room causes your body temperature to rise above 104 degrees, F, states the Mass General Hospital for Children. If the body remains unable to lower the body temperature, serious complications can occur including brain damage and death.
As the body becomes dehydrated and blood pressure drops, hypovolemic shock can occur. When blood pressure drops too low, the body is no longer able to transport oxygen to the tissues of the body. Without oxygen, tissues are unable to function properly. If medical attention is not received, hypovolemic shock can cause death in minutes to a few hours.