Steaming for COVID-19? What's the science, dangers, etc?

News, updates, announcements and insight from AMDA

Dr. Criscent Tumuhaise
AMDA Health Council

There are overwhelming testimonies from people who have recovered from COVID-19, regarding how steaming/steam therapy has helped them.

What is steaming?
Steaming (Steam inhalation therapy/Steam therapy) is a practice where an individual or group inhales steam or vapour from hot water into the respiratory tract.

In most cases, in our settings, this hot water is boiled with leaves of various plants and/or some herbal products or Vick's are added to give the water a certain "flavour" or aroma.

What are the myths
1. Steaming kills the virus hidden in your nose and throat
Steaming doesn't kill the virus hidden in your paranasal sinuses, in the cells of your body.

2. The hotter the water/steam, the better the results Hot steam will scald (burn) your airway and cause you worse problems than Corona.

Does steam therapy have a role in management of COVID-19?
I have read literature (am still reading) and published articles plus testimonies from patients, and my own experience and I conclude that steam therapy has a role in prevention of COVID-19 and possibly fastening the healing process and delays disease progression.

How? What's the science

1. Steam, or inhaled water vapour helps to moisturise the linings that cover the airways (the mucous membranes). This strengthens the integrity of the mucous membranes, enhances repair of the mucous membrane cells and this makes it difficult for the virus to penetrate the cells. A dry inner lining of the mucous membranes leads to "cracks in the cells", delayed self repair and facilitates viral entry.

2. This inner lining of the airways (mucous membranes) has Cilia (hair) which always help to push out excess mucus, by "beating it in one direction" This mucocilliary activity is lost when the membranes are dry. Moisturising them with inhaled steam resurrects this activity, helps to push out the mucus (together with the virus) and clears the airways.

3. Steam has the ability to breakdown or soften the excess mucous that clogs up the airways, hence clearing them. You will notice that a blocked nose opens up after steaming.

4. Vapour is absorbed into the body, and somehow improves the body's hydration status especially in the lungs. This aids blood flow and gaseous exchange.

5. There's no evidence that inhaled steam kills the virus in the body, because no matter how hot the steam you inhale is, by the time it reaches the lungs, the body's homeostatic mechanism has cooled it to basal body temperature. If anything, the virus doesn't stay on the surfaces of the cells while in the body, but rather penetrates the cells. However along the way to the lungs, it goes burning your mucous membranes (airway lining) and creating scalds (wounds) which will later act as entry points for bacteria and the virus itself.

Should we steam?
Yes. It's a good practice. We have always done it even before COVID. It helps to maintain the integrity of the airways. Steaming once a week if you have no flue or respiratory disease. Steaming once a day if you have flue, mild - moderate COVID, or mild respiratory disease. Do not use extremely hot water. Warm water is good enough. Adding agents like Vick's increases the density of the vapour and helps to keep the airways moisturised for a longer period.

Dangers of steaming
1. Burns, Scalds of the airways
2. Risk of viral transmission if it's done in a group
3. Myths (Creating false Hope, and hence abandoning rest of the preventive and treatment measures)