There is a knack to it and more on that later but utilizing steam therapy (inhaling steam) to relieve respiratory complaints has been around a long time – back to edo period Japan, back to the ancient Rome and the ancient Egyptian physicians. It moves in and out of favour and there are some sceptics but if you have ever tried it for yourself then there is no doubt that it moves more than mucus. The practice has been employed to easy the symptoms of cold, flu, cough, sinusitis, bronchitis, asthma, copd and other restrictive breathing complaints.
How it works. Steam inhalation involves the careful introduction of warm, moist air into our airways, through the nose and mouth. That steam-enriched air can moisten the respiratory tract easing discomfort and by allowing the gentle heat to dilate blood vessels and open the airways further, eases breathing difficulties. The heat also thins mucus thus breaking up any congestion and further allowing a better air flow. The warmth also improves blood circulation which apart from helping to oxygenate lungs more efficiently actually triggers an immune system response and delivers that slightly elevated white blood cell production to where it needs to go – to tackle that bacterial cough or to that viral upper respiratory tract infection.
How to do it. The naysayers on steam therapy always cite scalding yourself or how steam is not natural. Well having a shower you breathe in steam and you don’t cook your lungs or strip seven layers of skin off. So when it comes to a steam inhalation from a bowel or basin – don’t have it scalding, think comfortable shower temperature. Boil the kettle let it sit a minute or so and then add the hot water to your receptacle that you have placed on a sturdy counter or table top. Again let it rest a minute or so before availing of. I know you will take every precaution not to scald yourself but the purpose of this is that within the safe range of standard shower temperatures there is no irritation of lung lining so we are slowly getting to that place with the two rests. Also those who boil the kettle and dive straight in are not able to tolerate the heat for long and so get minimal benefit, it is not a sweat lodge or sauna, its simply some moistened warm air. Too hot and you may trigger wheezing or exacerbations.
Fetch a towel that is of sufficient size to drape over your head and shoulders and which will when you lean over the receptacle enable you to make a tent that traps the steam in your breathing zone. There is no optimum distance, you don’t have to have your nose touching the water (in fact don’t), 20cm or more away from the water is ample to let the steam rise toward your face. You can breathe normally through nose and mouth and the moisten and warmed air will be naturally inhaled. No need to go yogic breathing, just as you are. A few deeper breaths every now and then is no harm. 3 minutes under the tent will yield rewards but most regular users of this approach remain for 5-10minutes.
How to boost it with essential oils. You can boost the effectiveness of the bronchodilation, expectorant and antimicrobial effects of the steam inhalation by utilizing essential oils with more of those actions in their repertoire. You could start off with as little as 5drops but generally 10-20 drops to a basin will infuse in the steam and via the nasal passages and inhalation also deliver the active volatile oils to the lungs.
Here are eight essentials that are antibacterial and antiviral and offer bronchodilation too
• Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus)
• Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)
• Lemonbalm aka Melissa (Melissa officinalis)
• Neroli (Citrus aurantium)
• Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
• Sage (Salvia officinalis)
• Tee tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
• Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)