A spa day. We all need one. It's meant to relax and revitalize the body and mind, but what about the lungs? A new trend increasingly found at modern spas is halotherapy, or salt therapy—breathable salt particles intended to improve breathing. There has been news buzzing with the supposed benefits of salt therapy or halotherapy for lung conditions like COPD and asthma. But what exactly is salt therapy, and is it helpful or harmful?
Turns out, salt therapy isn't new at all. Back in 1843, a Polish physician by the name of Feliks Boczkowski noticed that salt mine workers did not experience respiratory issues or lung disease vs other miners. Almost a hundred years later, a German named Karl Hermann Spannagel noticed that his patients' health improved after hiding out in the salt caves while avoiding heavy bombing during WWII. The news of the benefits of salt therapy spread across Eastern Europe where you can find many locations offering these giant salt rooms today, from Poland to Germany to the UK. It's even catching on in the States at Korean bathhouses where you can sit back, relax and breathe in the salty air while in a room made entirely out of giant slabs of Himalayan sea salt.
Dr. Norman Edelman, Senior Scientific Advisor to the American Lung Association, suggests that potentially, it could be more than just a placebo effect. Most people with obstructive lung disease such as asthma or COPD cough sputum (a thick mixture of saliva and mucus), and trying to bring it up can be distressing. (Think about the last time you had bronchitis, for instance.) Dr. Edelman suggests that it's possible that salt therapy offers relief to these symptoms.
"When fine salt particles are inhaled, they will fall on the airway linings and draw water into the airway, thinning the mucus and making it easier to raise, thus making people feel better," said Dr. Edelman. "Also, these environments are allergen-free and thus good for people with allergies affecting their lungs."
At this point, there are no evidence-based findings to create guidelines for patients and clinicians about treatments such as salt therapy, which begs the question—should people be using a therapy without current medical guidance? There is also the question of how well maintained the rooms are since warm rooms could provide ideal conditions for the growth of bacteria. The bottom line: salt therapy should definitely be discussed with your doctor.