Infrared saunas are small rooms with infrared heaters. These heaters give off infrared heat that does not heat up the room, but instead is directly absorbed by a person's body. The effect is similar to sitting in sunshine, where a person may feel quite warm even though the room temperature itself is cool. An infrared sauna is a dry sauna, using only a heater to create beneficial effects, in contrast to wet saunas that also use hot water poured on rocks to produce steam. The dangers of infrared saunas are generally the same as those of wet saunas and involve excess heat.
Overheating and Dehydration
The primary risk of either a dry or steam sauna is overdoing it, as explained by physician Andrew Weil. Overheating can lead to fainting and dehydration, and dehydration can cause electrolyte depletion. Elderly people are more prone to overheating, as sweat gland function decreases with age. Circulatory conditions also can be a problem, as noted by Sauna Talk. A child's body temperature also rises more quickly than that of adults, so parents should consult with a pediatrician before allowing a child to spend time in a sauna.
Alcohol increases the risk of overheating. Additionally, Sauna Talk advises people taking antihistamines, barbiturates, beta-blockers or diuretics to be cautious about using an infrared sauna. These drugs can impair the ability to perspire and also may cause dehydration. People with certain health disorders may not be able to safely handle the heat of an infrared sauna. These disorders include adrenal suppression, diabetic neuropathy, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease.
Heart Disease Considerations
Although saunas are safe for most people with heart disease, certain cardiovascular conditions call for avoiding saunas, according to a study published in the Feb. 1, 2001 issue of the "American Journal of Medicine". These include unstable angina, recent heart attack, and severe narrowing of the aortic valve (aortic stenosis). Drinking alcohol in a sauna increases the risk of low blood pressure, irregular heart beat, and sudden death. Weil also cautions people with high blood pressure to "go easy" on any form of sweat-inducing heat.
Sweating during a sauna may increase itching in people with eczema (atopic dermatitis), according to a "American Journal of Medicine" study. Another study published in the "European Journal of Pediatrics" in December 1989 evaluated children regularly participating in saunas and found that half of those with atopic dermatitis experienced worse symptoms in the sauna.
One potential danger particularly associated with an infrared sauna compared to a wet sauna regards silicone implants of any sort. Silicone absorbs infrared heat, as explained by Sauna Talk. Anyone with a silicone implant should check with a doctor before using an infrared sauna.