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Steam Inhalation: Cold, Cough, Lungs, Benefits, Uses, Risks

Steam inhalation is one of the most commonly used home remedies to free up your nasal passage. It effectively treats colds, coughs and sinus infections. Even though steam inhalation does not cure infections, it helps you recuperate while your body fights them off.

4 min read
Steam Inhalation: Cold, Cough, Lungs, Benefits, Uses, Risks

What Is Steam Inhalation?

Steam inhalation is one of the most commonly used home remedies to free up your nasal passage. It effectively treats colds, coughs and sinus infections. Even though steam inhalation does not cure infections, it helps you recuperate while your body fights them off.

How To Inhale Steam?

You will need the following things if you want to follow the best practices for steam inhalation:

  • One big to medium-sized bowl
  • Some water
  • A stove, microwave or kettle to heat the water
  • A large towel

Step 1: Make sure you heat the water and bring it to a boil

Step 2: Once the water is steaming, turn off the heat and carefully pour the hot water into a bowl

Step 3: Take the towel and cover the back of your head with it fully

Step 4: Lower your head into the steaming water but keep a safe distance, so you don't burn yourself.

Step 5: Breathe the steam deeply through your nose for about 2-5 minutes.

Protip: Don't inhale the steam for longer than 10 - 15 minutes in a single sitting. However, the act of steaming can be repeated several times throughout the day to provide comfort to your respiratory tract.

Benefits of Steam Inhalation

Here are some of the benefits of steam inhalation, according to what it's used for:

Steam inhalation for the nose & sinuses

One of the most common reasons for a stuffy nose is inflammation in the blood vessels of the sinuses. A cold or sinus infection can irritate blood vessels. Steam inhalation allows you to breathe in warm and moist steam.

It helps ease the feeling of a blocked nose and soothes the irritation in your nasal passages. Moreover, moisture in the steam thins mucus in your sinuses, allowing normal breathing.

Steam inhalation for colds

Steam inhalation at home is one of the most effective ways of fighting a cold. This is because it helps open your blocked nasal passages. Besides, steam inhalation for colds allows you to get rid of cold symptoms like a sore throat, a stuffy nose, and a mild headache.

Steam inhalation for coughs

Most individuals suffer from coughing due to a change in the weather. The good thing is that steaming for coughs can be highly beneficial in helping you alleviate your cough. A study looked at the uses of steam inhalation for relieving cough symptoms.

The results showed that steaming for cough helps fight symptoms like shortness of breath, stuffy nose, and heartburn.

Steam inhalation therapy for the lungs

One of the best steam inhalation uses includes lung cleansing. Steam benefits for the lungs include fighting the buildup of mucus that gathers in the lungs. In this way, steam inhalation also reduces heaviness and congestion.

As it improves lung capacity, steam therapy for the lungs is ideal for individuals who smoke daily or have asthma. It's a good home remedy for people who are exposed to air pollution routinely too.

Also read: Yoga for immunity

Steam Inhalation at Home

Wondering how to use a steamer for nose block or the right way to take hot water steam for cold? Here's how:

How to perform steam inhalation at home?

  • Take a vessel and fill it 80% with water.
  • Start the flame and boil the water.
  • Add two tulsi leaves and some ginger to it.
  • Add ½ teaspoon of Vicks (you can also use Zandu Balm).
  • Add two cloves of garlic along with ½ tablespoon of Ajwain.
  • Continue boiling the water for 5-10 minutes until steam comes out.

Steaming at home

  • Take a cotton towel or blanket to cover your head. This will ensure the steam doesn't escape.
  • Keep the vessel a few inches away from your body.
  • Close your eyes and put your face near the opening of the vessel.
  • Start inhaling the steam slowly through your nose and mouth.
  • Repeat the process a few times.  

You can practise steam inhalation at home twice a day at your convenience. It's ideal to do it for 5-7 minutes.

Does Steam Inhalation Help You Combat Covid-19?

The World Health Organization and Centre For Disease Control and Prevention do not consider steam inhalation a preventive treatment for the Coronavirus. However, the American Lung Association has credited steam inhalation as relieving respiratory symptoms among COVID patients. That being said, one must not mistake steam inhalation as a cure for the virus.

Social distancing, sanitizing your hands frequently and wearing a mask at all times are the best practices to combat this fatal virus.

Side Effects or Risks of Steam Inhalation

If done right, steam inhalation can be a safe and efficient activity. It can help you fight a cold, a cough, and inflammation. However, if you're not careful, you might end up hurting yourself.

It's possible to accidentally knock over the hot water vessel or scald yourself by coming into contact with hot water. You can get severely injured if you don't take precautions. Here's how you can avoid burning yourself:

  • Always keep the hot water vessel on a level surface. Make sure the surface is sturdy so that you avoid any accidental spills.
  • Never lean on the vessel or try to shake it.
  • Keep the hot water steam away from pets and children.
  • Don't allow the steam to come into contact with your eyes. Try to direct your eyes away from the steam while keeping them closed.

As per a study, the majority of individuals who get burns from steam inhalation are children. If your child needs to steam, you must supervise them and instruct them to do so safely. That being said, it is safe to keep your child in a steamy bathroom while running a hot water shower.

While it is safe to use a vessel at home, opting for a steam inhalation system can be beneficial, as long as you exercise caution.

So, Should You Practice Steam Inhalation?

Steam inhalation is an excellent habit of clearing out your nasal and respiratory passages. Moreover, it also relieves sinuses, colds and coughs, helping to maintain better immunity. However, please do not inhale steam excessively and make sure you don't burn yourself with the boiling water.

Also read: Ayurvedic Giloy benefits


Paul Little, Beth Stuart (2016) Effectiveness of steam inhalation and nasal irrigation for chronic or recurrent sinus symptoms in primary care: a pragmatic randomized controlled trial (CMAJ Groups) https://www.cmaj.ca/content/188/13/940

Martin Baartmans (2012) Steam inhalation therapy: severe scalds as an adverse side effect (British Journal of General Practice) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3381273/