Though saunas offer a wealth of health benefits, they can also cause harm if used incorrectly or by people with certain health problems. Until you are familiar with how your body responds to sauna use, it’s best to err on the side of caution and follow these safety guidelines.
Basic safety precautions should be followed when installing and using sauna electrical equipment. Don’t attempt to hard-wire your sauna heater unless you’re a licensed electrician. The main control panel must be installed in a dry place outside the sauna.
Use a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) if the sauna is being placed in a wet location, such as outside or in a bathroom. A licensed electrician should know what the GFCI code requirement is in your area, but it’s something you should still ask him or her about.
Install a guardrail around the heater according to the heater manufacturer’s guidelines, and do not place combustible material on the heater at any time.
Don’t include any locking or latching sys-tem on the door of the sauna to prevent the possibility of entrapment.
Don’t allow children to use the sauna unless they are supervised at all times by a responsible adult.
Make sure that the sauna is vented to ensure an adequate supply of fresh air.
In a residential sauna, the air should be changed about six times an hour. The proper way to vent the sauna is to place a 2- to 3-inch (5 to 7.5 cm) vent beneath the heater on the adjacent wall to bring in fresh air. Another vent should be placed along the ceiling to allow air to exit.
Pregnant or possibly pregnant women should avoid sauna use until they get the okay from their physician, who can tell them what temperature of sauna use is safe. High temperatures have the potential to cause fetal damage, especially during the early months of pregnancy.
Don’t use the sauna immediately after performing strenuous exercise. To prevent overheating, wait until your body has cooled completely before entering the sauna.
If you have been drinking excessively, avoid sauna use altogether. If you are taking prescription medication, consult your physician before using the sauna, because some medications may induce drowsiness and affect heart rate and blood pressure. Alcohol, recreational drugs, and medications may affect your body’s ability to withstand sauna temperatures and could cause you to lose consciousness.
Consult a physician prior to using a sauna if you suffer from obesity, heart disease, low or high blood pressure, circulatory system problems, or diabetes.
Exit immediately if you feel uncomfortable, dizzy, or sleepy. Staying too long in a sauna can cause you to overheat and develop hyperthermia. Hyperthermia occurs when the internal temperature of the body reaches a level several degrees above normal. The symptoms of hyperthermia include dizziness, lethargy, drowsiness, and fainting. The effects of hyperthermia include failure to perceive heat, failure to recognize the need to exit the room, unawareness of impending hazard, fetal damage in pregnant women, physical inability to exit the room, and/or unconsciousness.
Exercise caution when entering and exiting the sauna. For example, you might trip over a threshold or slip on a tile floor.
Never sleep inside the sauna while it is operating. You may not awake before hyperthermia sets in.
Replace damaged electrical cords immediately. Turn off the power at the breaker switch and have the cord replaced by a licensed electrician.
Do not use an outdoor sauna during an electrical storm, as there is a remote chance of being hit by lightning.
Dry your hands before adjusting electrical controls. The potential for electrical shock exists.