What is steam inhalation?
Steam inhalation is one of the most widely used home remedies to soothe and open the nasal passages and get relief from the symptoms of a cold or sinus infection.
Also called steam therapy, it involves the inhalation of water vapor. The warm, moist air is thought to work by loosening the mucus in the nasal passages, throat, and lungs. This may relieve symptoms of inflamed, swollen blood vessels in your nasal passages.
While steam inhalation won’t cure an infection, like a cold or the flu, it may help make you feel a lot better while your body fights it off. But as with any home remedy, it’s important to learn best practices so you don’t hurt yourself in the process.
A stuffy nose is triggered by inflammation in the blood vessels of the sinuses. The blood vessels can become irritated because of an acute upper respiratory infection, such as a cold or a sinus infection.
The main benefit of breathing in moist, warm steam is that may help ease feelings of irritation and swollen blood vessels in the nasal passages. The moisture may also help thin the mucus in your sinuses, which allows them to empty more easily. This can allow your breathing to return to normal, at least for a short period of time.
Steam inhalation may provide some temporary relief from the symptoms of:
- the common cold
- the flu (influenza)
- sinus infections (infectious sinusitis)
- nasal allergies
While steam inhalation can provide subjective relief from the symptoms of a cold and other upper respiratory infections, it won’t actually make your infection go away any faster.
Steam inhalation doesn’t actually kill the virus responsible for the infection. At best, steam inhalation might make you feel a little better as your body fights your cold.
One review of six clinical trials evaluating steam therapy in adults with the common cold had mixed results. Some participants had symptom relief, but others didn’t. Additionally, some participants experienced discomfort inside the nose from the steam inhalation.
Another recent clinical trial looked at the use of steam inhalation in treating chronic sinus symptoms. The study, however, didn’t find that steam inhalation was beneficial for the majority of sinus symptoms, except for headaches.
Although the results of clinical studies have been mixed, anecdotal evidence claims steam inhalation helps alleviate:
- congested (stuffy) nose
- throat irritation
- breathing problems caused by airway congestion
- dry or irritated nasal passages