Steam inhalation or steaming has become a commonly prescribed home remedy to “prevent” and “treat” Covid. Social media forwards urging people to use steam inhalation as one of the of the most effective home remedies in fighting Covid-19 have become more frequent than ever.
But can steam inhalation actually prevent Covid infection, or kill the virus in those already infected?
Experts have clarified that while steaming is useful to relieve congestion or a cold in the upper respiratory tract, it does not help with pneumonia or any condition of the lung, or help treat an infection in any way.
In Covid patients, steaming can bring relief when presented symptoms are similar to that of a common cold, causing a stuffy nose and sinusitis. It can’t ease respiratory problems, however.
And a word of caution; if done improperly, steaming can cause scalding of skin and airways. Also, it’s best done in isolation, or else it can result in further spread of infection, rather than containing it.
There have been numerous reports of such instances, including in young children. Additionally, mass steaming events, can risk spreading the virus to uninfected individuals.
Dr Satyanarayana Mysore, HOD, pulmonology, Manipal Hospitals who has been treating Covid cases since March, said steam inhalation for a week is “very unscientific”. ““We have seen patients coming in with respiratory symptoms not due to COVID but because of scalding of airways. Such cases have a history of steam inhalation. Unscientific steam inhalation is going to burn airways causing problems much worse than COVID” Dr Mysore said in a news report published by The Times of India.
“Steaming is helpful in relieving congestion in the nose and upper respiratory tract,” said Gagandeep Kang, virologist and professor of microbiology at Christian Medical College, Vellore. “But it does nothing whatsoever to prevent Covid or treat the virus or affect the progression of the disease.”
What does steaming do?
When blood vessels along the lining of the nasal passages, tract, and sinuses become irritated and inflamed during an infection, they secrete mucus causing congestion. Inhaling steam, lubricates the lining and dilutes the mucus, allowing it to empty more easily and creating temporary relief in breathing. The warm steam can also ease irritation and inflammation.
The safe way to undertake steaming it at home would be to do it in isolation, in a ventilated room, with a towel or blanket over one’s head, while inhaling the steam rising from hot water, placed in a large bowl. The person’s head should ideally be about 12 inches away from the water, and slow deep breaths should be taken for about two to five minutes.
Covid symptoms present in a multitude of ways and combinations, including fever, body pain, diarrhoea, runny nose, stuffy nose, and more. Steaming is helpful when presented symptoms are similar to that of a common cold, causing a stuffy nose and sinusitis.
It is incapable of preventing infection. It is also not capable of killing or destroying the virus or preventing its replication, as many sources have wrongly claimed.
Even in cases of common cold, steaming can only relieve symptoms. It does not clear the infection any faster or kill the virus.
Additionally, any respiratory or breathing distress itself cannot be relieved by steaming, clarified Kang. That is caused by the disease, while congestion and cold-like stuffy nose are only symptoms that can be alleviated through steam inhalation.
More so, steam inhalation without congestion could worsen other respiratory conditions like asthma. Use of essential oils in steam could also potentially lead to seizures -experts have warned.
So exercise caution while opting for steam therapy. It’s definitely not the cure all, that it is at times made out to be.
Dr Thomas Mathew, professor and HOD, neurology, St John’s Medical College Hospital said if the SARS-CoV2 virus can be killed through steam inhalation, the world could not have seen COVID fatalities.
Masks, physical distancing and handwashing are the best weapons against catching coronavirus. Vaccination against COVID-19 is also a scientifically proven remedy against COVID-19.