Steam rooms have been used for hundreds of years to improve blood circulation, drain sinuses, rejuvenate skin, and relieve joint and muscle tension. These are definite benefits, but steam rooms also have their drawbacks. A little caution and forward thinking can help you avoid the negative effects of steam rooms.
Bacteria and fungi prefer damp, warm environments with little light. This makes steam rooms perfect breeding grounds for infections to spread. One of the most common is athlete's foot, or tinea pedis, which can occur when your bare feet are exposed the floor of a steam room. Athlete's foot causes stinging, itching, and burning between toes and other areas on your foot. Another common fungal infection is jock itch, or tinea cruris, that affects the upper thigh, genital and buttocks. If someone who has jock itch was sitting on a bench in a steam room, it increases the likelihood the next person who sits there may become infected as well. Always wear shoes in a steam room, and if you sit on a bench, place a clean towel beneath you.
Steam room temperatures range from 110 to 116 degrees F, with 100 percent humidity. A great deal of perspiration ensues, and dehydration can result if you are not careful. The best way to avoid this is to drink plenty of water before and after the steam room, and not to stay in the steam room for more than 15 to 20 minutes at a time.
Those with respiratory disease, heart palpitations, high or low blood pressure, diabetes and the elderly should consult a physician before entering a steam room. Pregnant women should avoid them altogether. Steam rooms have a negative effect on blood pressure, which inhibits oxygen flow to the fetus and may cause birth defects. Male infertility may also result from spending time in steam rooms. According to the Harvard Medical School, high temperatures can make sperm inactive and disrupt development.
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Myrna St. Romain has been a writer for more than three years, contributing to such sites as ataglance.com and leisurepro.com. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition from University of Nebraska in 2004 as well as personal training certifications through ACE and NASM.