Many people take a hot shower to soothe their breathing when they’re congested. With asthma attacks, however, the way hot showers affect your symptoms can vary.

Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition. It’s caused when inflammation in your airways creates swelling and mucus buildup, narrowing the tubes that transport air in and out of your lungs.

Inflammation in asthma stems from respiratory hypersensitivity. Allergens and irritants that might be otherwise harmless can trigger an immune response that sets off a chain of events, making it difficult to breathe.

While some people with asthma find that hot showers bring some relief, a hot shower is unlikely to stop an asthma attack, and it may be an asthma trigger on its own.

Asthma is a persistent condition that can fluctuate in severity. When you encounter something that makes your symptoms worse, it’s known as an asthma trigger. Asthma triggers can vary by individual, and how they affect your symptoms can depend on the trigger itself and the circumstances of your exposure.

When your asthma symptoms suddenly worsen, it’s known as an asthma attack, asthma flare-up, or asthma exacerbation.

Asthma attacks can develop gradually or rapidly. They can cause a mild increase in symptoms, or symptoms might become severe enough to require emergency medical care. You might not have the same level of reaction to a trigger every time you encounter it.

Common asthma triggers include:

  • dust mites
  • pet dander
  • mold
  • pollen
  • emotional stress
  • physical exertion
  • infections
  • extreme temperatures
  • poor air quality
  • smoke
  • chemical fumes
  • certain medications

There’s currently no evidence that proves taking a hot shower for an asthma attack is effective.

Asthma is an inflammatory condition primarily related to hypersensitivity in your airways. Taking a hot shower won’t stop the response from your immune system if you’ve encountered a trigger.

A hot shower might help relieve some of your general symptoms, however. Research suggests breathing in steam can moisturize your airways, reducing irritation. The heat and humidity can promote mucus thinning and drainage.

If you’ve encountered an asthma trigger that’s lingering on your skin or in your hair (like pollen), a hot shower might also help by washing away the irritant.

However, taking a hot shower isn’t right for everyone living with asthma. Heat and humidity can be asthma triggers for certain people. An older study from 2016 investigating bathing habits with asthma found hot baths triggered asthma symptoms in approximately 28% of participants.

Although the research focused on hot baths, not showers, participants reported vapor inhalation (steam) as their primary asthma trigger, followed by a sudden change in air temperature. Also, about 17% of subjects actually experienced improvement in active asthma symptoms while bathing.

Hot, humid air, even in your shower, can also encourage the activity of certain molds, dust mites, and bacteria that might worsen your symptoms.

If you’re wondering about using hot showers therapeutically for asthma, an allergist can make recommendations regarding the ideal temperature and duration of exposure.

Extreme temperatures can trigger asthma, but cold is more likely than heat to worsen symptoms. Even if you don’t live with asthma, cold air can cause airway inflammation, narrowing, and increased sensitivity.

Taking a cold shower when you aren’t used to one can also shock your body. If the water is cold enough it could activate your dive reflex, an automatic gasp for breath when your body goes into cold water survival mode.

Rapid breathing, combined with changes in your airways from the cold, could make your asthma symptoms feel worse.

What to do during an asthma attack

An allergist can help you create an individualized asthma action plan, which contains a detailed, written list of instructions on what to do and which medications to take if you experience an asthma attack.

General recommendations include:

  • staying calm
  • removing triggers
  • sitting upright
  • managing your breathing (as best you can)
  • using your rescue inhaler and other medications as indicated
  • call 911 if your symptoms don’t improve

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommends seeking emergency medical care if symptoms don’t respond to at-home medications or if they continue to worsen.

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If you’re having an asthma attack, your asthma action plan outlines the best steps to take for immediate symptom relief, but effective asthma management can decrease the severity of asthma attacks overall.

Beneficial asthma management strategies include:

  • keeping up with regularly scheduled doctor visits
  • following your asthma action plan
  • consistently tracking your symptoms
  • recording at-home test results, like readings from your peak flow meter
  • taking all medications as directed
  • identifying and taking steps to avoid asthma triggers
  • improving the ventilation and air quality in your home
  • eating a balanced diet
  • not smoking
  • exercising regularly
  • getting plenty of sleep
  • staying hydrated
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • managing stress
  • taking steps to prevent respiratory infections, like regular handwashing, wearing a mask, or getting recommended vaccinations
  • writing down any questions about your asthma to discuss with your allergist
  • avoiding secondhand smoke and other inhaled irritants

Effectively managing your asthma doesn’t mean you’ll never have an asthma attack, but it can reduce the frequency and severity of your symptoms if an attack happens.

The American Lung Association indicates asthma is considered well-controlled when:

  • you need your quick-relief inhaler less than three times a week
  • daily activities and exercise produce few or no symptoms
  • asthma doesn’t wake you up during the night

Taking a hot shower for an asthma attack isn’t likely to stop an asthma attack. For some people, a hot shower could even trigger asthma or worsen symptoms.

When you experience an asthma attack, your asthma action plan outlines the steps and medications recommended by your doctor to relieve symptoms.

In addition to these immediate relief options, effective asthma management may help improve asthma attack symptoms overall.