Like many a former child, when rain started pouring in your younger years, you might’ve been told by an adult something along the lines of, “Get inside! It’s raining and you might catch a cold!”
If you’ve been caught in the rain at least once, you’ll know how chilly it can get after being drenched.
You might even start to feel sick if you get soaked in a sudden downpour.
Cold dog. Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash.
Thus, many beginners to the world of Cold Exposure have no doubt thought about its possible negative effects.
After all, if common rainfall can make you sick, how much more with much colder ice baths?
But you can’t deny that people who want to go to the next level with their fitness and health get some lasting positive benefits from cold exposure therapy using a cold plunge pool.
And as counterintuitive as it seems, there’s a bunch of research showing its benefits.
However, there have been concerns regarding the safety of ice baths and their potential to supposedly cause pneumonia.
See also: How ice baths can increase your dopamine
We did the research so that we can help ease some of the worries of beginners to ice baths—because we want as many people as possible to experience the benefits of Cold Exposure Therapy.
And so, in this article, we’ll explore what ice baths do to your body, the possible effects of ice baths, what actually causes pneumonia, and whether you should take an ice bath if you have pneumonia.
Let’s get started with the basics:
What Ice Baths Do to Your Body
Ice baths involve immersing your body in icy cold water with temperatures ideally ranging from 10-15°C for a few minutes.
When you plunge into an ice bath, your body experiences a few immediate effects:
- First, the sudden temperature change can cause your heart rate to increase and blood pressure to rise in the short term.
- Second, increased blood flow helps to improve circulation, reduce inflammation, and speed up recovery.
- Third, the ice bath triggers the release of endorphins, promoting a positive mood and a boost in energy.
- Fourth, the body's metabolism increases to maintain internal temperature, leading to calorie burning and improved metabolic rate.
- Finally, numbness in extremities can occur due to reduced blood flow from vasoconstriction.
Ice Baths don’t really sound very pleasant to the newcomer for a reason: because a lot of these sound very stressful! (And they are.)
However, these short-term voluntary stressors are what can cause the positive benefits in our bodies.
Therefore, although some of these effects may not sound very pleasant, ice baths offer numerous benefits, including faster recovery, reduced inflammation, an elevated mood, as well as increased focus and mental acuity (so you can think better.)
But how does this connect with pneumonia?
Will the cold shock, and the accompanying stresses of an ice bath make you develop pneumonia and get a really bad cold? Let’s find out:
What Actually Causes Pneumonia
Pneumonia is a lung infection caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. (Source: Medical News Today)
It spreads through someone else who has the disease.
This can happen if infected people cough, sneeze, talk or sing, which sends “respiratory droplets into the air.”
These can then be inhaled by people in close contact. (Source: American Lung Association)
The bacteria or virus enters the lungs, causing inflammation and fluid build-up, leading to symptoms such as cough, fever, and difficulty breathing.
Pneumonia can be a severe illness, especially in older adults or people with weakened immune systems.
To put it simply and go back to the topic of Cold Exposure therapy: you get pneumonia from someone else who has pneumonia, and not from ice baths or other cold exposure.
So why do people ask if cold showers or ice baths can give you pneumonia?
The reason is that we tend to associate the cold with sickness, because during cold and wet periods, we tend to stay inside with many other people—exactly the environment where sickness can spread.
Certain cold viruses can also apparently function better at low temperatures, according to a Yale-led study. (Source)
And so we remember the pattern that cold = sick, even though it’s not the direct cause of it since cold weather doesn’t inherently have viruses or bacteria.
Other Possible Effects of Ice Baths
Although ice baths have several benefits, they can also be very taxing on your body if you’re not prepared, or are not in the best of health.
Cold exposure therapy can put a significant amount of stress on your body and can lead to overexertion if not done correctly.
As said earlier, ice baths cause vasoconstriction, which can lead to a decrease in blood flow indifferent body parts, usually the extremities like the fingers and toes:
This can cause numbness and tingling.
It’s also possible that short term cold exposure can just make you feel worse if you stop before you can get any of the positive effects, which can happen if you only plunge for 1 or 2 minutes.
This will still help with your body’s adaptation if you keep at it in the long run, but the researched effects have been usually studied for cold exposure starting around 10 minutes, to an hour or more, depending on the protocol.
But if you just dip in and out after less than 5 minutes, you might just end up feeling cold and shiver a bunch.
This is similar to when some people seem to develop short-lived cold symptoms (without actually catching a cold virus) when the weather changes to much colder all of a sudden.
Should You Take an Ice Bath If You Have Pneumonia?
No, you shouldn’t take an ice bath if you have pneumonia. Ice baths and other forms of cold exposure can be very taxing on your body, and cold exposure therapy can stress your immune system, which is already working hard to fight off the infection. Therefore, it's important to rest and hydrate when you have pneumonia and follow the advice of your medical professional instead of doing something stressful like cold exposure.
Like we discussed earlier, cold exposure through ice baths can’t give you pneumonia unless you contracted it from someone else.
If you're interested in trying cold exposure therapy, you should prepare yourself physically (and mentally) before doing so.
And of course, make sure you don’t have any sickness like pneumonia or the flu before you do any form of cold exposure therapy.
When you’re starting out, begin with milder forms of cold exposure, such as cold showers, and gradually work your way up to ice baths.
It's also essential to listen to your body and not push yourself far beyond your limits:
The cold should be uncomfortable but cold enough that you can stay there safely for a few minutes, according to Andrew Huberman’s science-supported cold exposure protocol. (Source)
If you have any underlying medical conditions, it's also important to talk to your doctor before starting cold exposure therapy.
Ice baths are a popular form of deliberate cold exposure therapy that have a variety of health benefits in the brain and body.
However, it’s essential to understand the possible effects of ice baths on your body and the potential risks of taking them when you have a sickness like pneumonia, a potentially severe disease caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi.
Since ice plunges or other forms of cold exposure inherently stress the body, it’s important to avoid such activities when one is sick, like with a cold or flu.
It’s crucial to rest and hydrate when you have pneumonia and follow the advice of your medical professional.
If you’re interested in giving your health protocol a boost, our Ice Bath NZ provides a complete package for you to start enjoying the benefits of ice baths, right in your home. It includes a pump, user manual, repair kit: just add ice and water. Delivered straight from Christchurch to your door NZ wide.