Feature

The buzz of steam inhalation amid the corona scare

Palo Mohlotsane

Tśeliso Kheleli’s lazy Sunday afternoon rest is interrupted by a sudden drop of sweat driven a sudden heat surge which drives him to get icy cold water.

His choice of beverage is befitting for the scotching hot Sunday afternoon.

Lazing around watching an action movie from his laptop, the heat doesn’t raise any alarm and the cold water temporarily eases the irritation.

At sunset, Kheleli realises that the sweat he experienced earlier was an indication of some sort of an illness.

His body’s strength is suddenly acting up; he experiences muscle pains, a mild headache and loss of appetite which all are raising an alarm.

At the heart of the COVID-19 where personal contact poses danger, Kheleli had been in contact with someone who had tested positive to the virus earlier in the month.

Unlike many who do not have a clue as to when or how they may have contacted the virus, he says he was aware that his friend had tested positive hence the symptoms were not much of a mystery to discern.

“My friend tested positive to COVID-19 sometime ago. I had been in contact with him a few days before he tested positive and went into self-isolation,” Kheleli said.

With him displaying COVID-19 like symptoms, Kheleli decided to resort to a home remedy that has become popular amongst different nations while scientists around the world are racing against time to find the cure for the deadly coronavirus whose origins trace back to Wuhan in China in 2019.

The poor and rich, from Lesotho to the United States, health systems are collapsing as cases of COVID-19 surpass the 100 million mark, killing slightly over 2 million people globally.

This has forced countries to impose movement restrictions through hard lockdowns, put in place mitigation strategies and regulations to flatten the curve of infection.

At the time Kheleli’s friend tested positive, the virus had killed 89 Basotho, and the father of one underage child feared for his life.

He vowed to do everything in his power to stay alive, if not for him then for his 3-year-old son.

With more horror stories of how COVID-19 patients were dying in local hospitals earmarked for the virus care amid revelations of lack of oxygen, Kheleli feared for his life and treated himself as a COVID-19 patient.

But instead of checking himself into a hospital or quarantine facility, he turned to steam inhalation as a trusted home remedy.

“I never went for testing but I suspected myself after coming down with flu. So, I decided to get into the steaming therapy. I boiled garlic, lengana (artemisia) and konofolo (the tulbaghia violacea) in a pot for 20 minutes.

“I then poured the mixture into a washing basin along with eucalyptus oil and steamed for ten minutes, covering my entirely body with a blanket.

“My flue subsided two days after steam inhaling therapy twice a day,” Kheleli attests.

While the world is racing against time to find the cure for COVID-19, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended prevention measures such as physical distancing, wearing of masks as well as washing hands for 20 seconds with soap and running water or using hand sanitisers.

Besides the WHO recommended prevention strategies, the emergence of home remedies such as steam inhalation has become popular among nations.

Local clinicians like Busa Qhala, a nurse at the Red Cross Health Centre in Thaba-Bosiu, recommends steam inhalation as an effective home remedy that opens the nasal passages; assisting patients to breathe on their own.

Also, the Lesotho Nurses Association (LNA) Public Relations Officer, Qhala says steam inhalation relieves patients from symptoms such as cold or sinus inclusive of corona related symptoms or infection.

Qhala explains steam inhalation as breathing-in water vapour and that the warm, moist air is also thought to work by loosening the mucus in nasal passages, throat and lungs, leading to a relief in symptoms of inflamed, swollen blood vessels in nasal passages.

“…however, people should note that steam inhalation won’t cure an infection like cold, corona or flue but may help an individual to feel better while their antibodies fight the virus,” Qhala quickly comments.

Qhala stresses that the infection causes inflammation in the blood system due to COVID-19, cold or sinus thus blocking normal air entry.

He says this causes insufficient oxygen supply to the lungs, adding that steam inhalation helps ease the feeling of irritation and swollen blood vessels in the nasal passages as well as restoring normal breathing patterns.

“The moisture also helps thin the mucus in the sinuses which allows them to empty easier. It helps in unblocking the congested nose, alleviation of headache and throat irritation as immediate COVID-19 signs,” Qhala alludes, adding “steam inhalation is good to ease congestion that is caused by the infection and further relieves symptoms of upper respiratory tract infection problems”.

He concludes: “Steam inhalation is the most important and effective way to fighting COVID-19 as it does not go through an individual’s bloodstream thus protecting vital organs”.

For his part, Dr Mwamba Kwadi, a medical doctor at Katse Clinic in Thaba-Tseka, says steam inhalation cycles are considered to be useful in damaging the capsule (breaking down the viral envelope) of the virus.

“I highly recommend steam inhalation as a home therapy used in fighting the spread of COVID-19,” the doctor says.

Nurse Qhala and Dr Kwadi are not the only ones singing praises for steam inhalation.

Another suspected COVID-19 patient, Mpho Serobanyane, thinks clinicians must officially declare steam inhalation as part of home remedies for COVID-19 and other flu related diseases.

“I started using the steam inhalation technique after being told that people I were in contact with, tested positive to COVID-19. It happened a few times even recently when I learnt that the police officer whom I was in contact with died of COVID-19 related illnesses,” Serobanyane recounts.

Serobanyane has had a share of experiences of COVID-19 as he recently sat in the same car with one local taxi owner who succumbed to COVID-19.

“As a known asthmatic patient, I decided to use steam inhalation to avoid any complications and to kill the virus,” Serobanyane says, quickly warning that the steam therapy can cause facial burns if used on a dry skin.

The Maputsoe resident also warns that the therapy is not recommended for children as it could burn their skin too.

“People should be cautious as the therapy can also damage and burn the iris if one opens their eyes while steaming,” Serobanyane concludes.

While steam inhalation is only becoming popular among nations in the midst of COVID-19, research shows that the therapy is traditionally used for skin treatment.

According to www.healthline.com steaming has many benefits that include opening of sweat pores and helps loosen any build-up of dirt for a deeper skin cleanse, promotion of blood circulation, releases acne-causing bacteria and cells, and helps with sinus congestion. 

A Journal by Life Sciences titled, Thermal inactivation of SARS COVID-2 virus: Are steam inhalations a potential treatment, states that steaming soon after contagion could reduce the risk of progression to full blown infection.

“However, contagion occurs most often unknowingly, which does not allow a timely preventive procedure, unless carried systematically in at risk individuals (for example healthcare professionals working in COVID units or personnel in contact with the public),” reads the journal in part.

The study suggests that a protocol based on cycles of steam inhalation at temperatures of up to 65degrees Celsius may be beneficial in halting coronavirus infection in the upper airway mucosae during the initial stages of infection and possibly preventing further spread.

“It could also be helpful in pauci-symptomatic subjects during the last period of infection, when the immune system is already active against the virus but its presence is still detectable in the upper respiratory tract. Since steam cannot reach the bronchial tree, bronchi and lungs, it is unlikely it could be beneficial once the infection has reached the deep internal airway mucosa,” reads the study.

However, the study warns protocols done by medical practitioners on patients cannot be intended to lead to an eradication of the virus from the body, as the steam inhalation procedure can only reach upper airways.

“This simple approach, only tested in a small sample and in a biased population, might help easing the consequences of SARS-CoV-2 infection if applied early in at-risk individuals in whatever healthcare setting, especially in low income countries with limited access to equipped hospitals or intensive care units,” read the study.

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