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Why is Steam Therapy effective in treating Covid-19?

Among the common home remedies used against the raging Covid-19 pandemic is steaming. While many feel that this popular remedy is sure to beat the Coronavirus, the medical experts say all it does is ease stuffy noses.

Even social media is abuzz about how steaming can safeguard against Covid-19. Let us find out what are the facts and how does steam inhalation help?

Steam Inhalation

One of the most recommended age-old home remedies, steam inhalation is used extensively to calm and open the nasal passages. It gives respite in case of sinus infection or common cold.

Also called as steam therapy, in this a person inhales water vapour. The warm water is believed to loosen the mucus in the nasal passage, throat and lungs. The inhaling helps in relieving symptoms of inflamed, swollen blood vessels in the nasal passages and thereby ease congestion and other respiratory symptoms.

During an infection, blood vessels along the lining of the nasal passages, tract, and sinuses become irritated and inflamed. They secrete mucus causing congestion. By inhaling steam one lubricates the lining and dilutes the mucus. This allows it to empty more easily and creates temporary relief in breathing.

Further warm steam can also ease inflammation and irritation.

Fighting Covid-19 with Steam Therapy

It may be noted that neither the World Health Organization (WHO) nor the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests this therapy for preventing coronavirus.

The American Lung Association, however, states that steam inhalation could help ease respiratory symptoms, but it will not work as a cure for the virus.

Checking Covid with steaming

There are a multitude of ways and combinations in which Covid symptoms are manifested. These include fever, body pain, diarrhoea, runny nose, stuffy nose, and more.

When the symptoms are similar to that of a common cold which causes a stuffy nose and sinusitis, steaming is helpful.

It is vital to note that steaming is incapable of preventing infection and also not capable of destroying or killing the virus or averting is replication, as wrongly claimed by many sources.

In an article in The Print, Gagandeep Kang, Virologist and Professor of Microbiology at Christian Medical College, Vellore says, “Steaming is helpful in relieving congestion in the nose and upper respiratory tract. But it does nothing whatsoever to prevent Covid or treat the virus or affect the progression of the disease.”

Interestingly, even in common cold cases, the steaming relieves the symptoms and does not clear either the infection any faster or kill the virus.

Kang further adds that any respiratory or breathing distress itself cannot be relieved by steaming. That is caused by the disease, while congestion and cold-like stuffy nose are only symptoms that can be alleviated through steam inhalation.

One must bear in mind that steam inhalation without congestion could worsen other respiratory conditions like asthma. Using essential oils in steam could also potentially lead to seizures.

What are the benefits of Steam Inhalation?

Inhaling in moist, warm steam may help alleviate irritation and swollen blood vessels in the nasal passages. As the vapour also supports in thinning of the mucus in sinuses, it allows them to clear out easily.

Further, steaming relaxes throat muscles, bringing down the soreness and inflammation while dilating the blood vessels thereby improving blood circulation. All this helps in bringing the breathing to normal and help one breathe well.

Usually inhalation therapy may offer temporary respite from the symptoms of the common cold, the flu, sinus infections, bronchitis, nasal allergies, etc.

Even though a number of clinical trials have disclosed mixed results, however, anecdotal evidence claims steam inhalation helps ease: Headache, congested (stuffy) nose, throat irritation. breathing problems caused by airway congestion, dry or irritated nasal passages, cough, ease congestion, etc

Inhalation Process

One needs a large bowl, water, a pot or kettle and a towel. The water has to be heated to boiling temperature. Carefully the hot water is to be poured in a bowl. Now cover the towel over the back of the head. With eyes closed, one has to slowly lower one’s head toward the vapour about 10 inches away from the water.

While avoiding making direct contact with the water, one should inhale slowly and deeply through the nose for at least two to five minutes.

One should not steam for more than 10-15 minutes per session. The therapy, however, can be repeated twice or thrice in a day in order to ease congestion.

The substitute of this method is usage of an electric steam inhaler. Also called as a vaporizer, it is readily available and is simple and handy to use. Using electricity, the vaporizer makes steam that is warm before leaving the machine. A number of vaporizers have a built-in mask that fits around the mouth and nose.

The vaporiser needs to be washed and cleaned to avoid any bacterial or fungal growth on it.


One runs the risk of burning oneself, so one should not make contact with hot water. Following precautions must be kept in mind while doing steam therapy.

  • Ensure the bowl of hot water is placed on a levelled surface.
  • Don’t shake or lean on the bowl.
  • Avoid letting the steam make any contact with your eyes.
  • Keep the bowl of hot water out of reach of children. Steam inhalation isn’t advised for children due to the risk of burns.

The electrical vaporisers available are safe, as the water is enclosed and can’t easily spill.