Effect of Inhaling Heated Vapor on Symptoms of the Common Cold

Gregory J. Forstall, MD; Michael L. Macknin, MD; Belinda R. Yen-Lieberman, PhD; Sharon VanderBrug Medendorp, MPH
JAMA. 1994;271(14):1109-1111. doi:10.1001/jama.1994.03510380065039.
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Objective.  —To test the efficacy of steam inhalation in treating common cold symptoms.

Design.  —An in vitro study determined the temperature that inactivated rhinovirus: a temperature of 43°C lasting at least 1 hour was needed. We then conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized in vivo study.

Setting.  —The virology laboratory and the outpatient department of the Cleveland (Ohio) Clinic Foundation.

Patients.  —Sixty-eight Cleveland Clinic employee volunteers with symptoms of the common cold at the time of enrollment.

Intervention.  —A single 60-minute treatment was given to the volunteers. The steam treatment group (n=32) received 40 L/min of heated saturated air that raised the intranasal temperature to 43°C. The placebo group (n=36) received 2 L/min of ambient air at 20°C to 24°C.

Main Outcome Measures.  —Subjective symptom scores for nasal congestion, nasal drainage, and sneezing and objective measures of nasal resistance were studied during a 7-day follow-up observation period.

Results.  —There were no significant differences in daily symptom scores between the groups (P=.59 to.83). The only statistically significant differences between the groups were lower nasal resistances at baseline in the steam group (P=.04) and percent improvement in nasal resistance favoring the placebo group on day 7 (P=.01). However, these differences were of questionable clinical significance.

Conclusion.  —We conclude that steam inhalation treatment had no beneficial effect on the cold symptoms of our volunteers.(JAMA. 1994;271:1109-1111)


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