In the Arab world, Turkish baths (hammams) are visited weekly by much of the population. Although poorer people depend upon public baths for basic bathing, hammams are valued by all social classes for deep skin cleansing and exfoliation.
Sitting in a hot, dry sauna or hot, humid steam room offers a number of health benefits. These include:
- an elevated body temperature, which works as a fever would to boost immunity by increasing white blood cell production
- heavy sweating, which helps eliminate toxins, chemicals and other impurities from the skin
- increased heart rate, blood circulation and metabolic rate
- looser, relaxed muscles after exercise
- relief for stress, tension and high blood pressure
- sense of mental well-being and rejuvenation.
Steam rooms, steam baths and steam showers offer the added benefit of steam inhalation, which helps alleviate congestion, inflammation, and coughing brought on by allergies and other respiratory conditions. Steam inhalation loosens mucous and other secretions, and helps reduce spasmodic breathing. Natural, holistic and alternative medicine practitioners have long recommended saunas and steam rooms as detoxification treatments and to promote mental well-being. They are also used to treat pain and inflammation, as well as a variety of medical conditions such as skin problems, asthma, bronchitis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, and muscle and soft tissue injuries.
Although a 30-minute session in a sauna or steam room is safe for most people, prolonged exposure to high temperatures and steam may cause faintness, dehydration, overheating and even rare sudden death in some people. Pregnant women, very young children, and those with cardiac problems, low blood pressure, diabetes, and other health conditions should use saunas only under the advice of a physician. The use of alcohol, drugs and some medications may also increase risk to some people.