Steam inhalation: Beneficial or Just a Myth?

Steam inhalation is one of the home remedies where there is the inhalation of water vapor done. Also called as steam therapy, it is often used to get relief from cold, coughs, and sinus issues.


It may provide relief but it’s important to also take care especially with children as it is hot water we are dealing with! Side effects like scalding and burns can occur if not careful.

Some benefits claimed of steam therapy are:

Steam inhalation was seen to provide atleast temporarily relief from:

  • Headaches
  • Blocked nose
  • Coughs
  • Breathing issues
  • Fever
  • Common cold
  • Bronchitis
  • Sinusitis

It is important to note though that steam inhalation may not necessarily cure the disease but may provide temporary relief whereas in some people it may not show any effect either. In a study conducted in England, 871 patients were asked to undergo steam inhalation. All the subjects suffered from sinusitis. After 6 months follow up, there was no improvement seen in subjects.


According to a 2012 study by Baartmans, it was seen that steam therapy was extremely dangerous for young children as they suffered from burns especially in the lower part of the body specifically the abdomen, and thus was not recommended by the researchers in the study. A study conducted in May 15 this year also supported this claim. The researchers surveyed burns services across England and found 50% of centers had an increase in scalds relating to steam inhalation.

It is important to note that the above studies have been conducted in western countries and not in India. In an Indian study published in July 2020, beneficial effects of steam inhalation were seen in Covid-19 patients as symptoms improved and there were less rates of transmission seen, though it has to be kept in mind that this was an observational study.

Hence the take-home message is that it is important to take care while proceeding with inhalation. More studies need to be conducted on the effects of steam inhalation. It definitely does provide temporary relief, though if discomfort is experienced, it is necessary to stop it.

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