When it comes to salt, without fail the topic of discussion zeroes in on the dietary health risks of consuming too much: high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke to name a few. We forget that saline sprays are quick to clear clogged nasal passages. Or that when you have a sore throat, it’s suggested you gargle salt water. And when you have sore muscles, a soak in Epsom salts does wonders.
Halotherapy, also known as salt therapy, puts another twist on salt consumption. As an alternative method to treating various respiratory ailments, some people are breathing in salt vapors. With an influx in the number of halotherapy centers opening up in North America and Europe, the million dollar question my patients ask me is… do they actually work?
Halotherapy is simply the process of breathing in dry, micronized salt particles in the form of salt air. Medieval monks have been using salt caverns to treat respiratory ailments for centuries, with it reaching its height of popularity in the 19th century. Modern halotherapy rooms recreate this, with a unique modification: dry aerosol salt vapors are pumped into the air allowing patients to deeply breathe it in. But again, does it work?
A study from the New England Journal of Medicine in 2006 found that inhaling hypertonic saline improved lung function in people with cystic fibrosis. While another study done that same year, published in the European Respiratory Journal, found that inhaling aerosolized salt temporarily improved coughing and mucus production in smokers—which makes sense when you consider that those living in humid climates find breathing dramatically easier when they visit somewhere with minimal humidity.
It’s no different to patients with cystic fibrosis, who we medically treat with high salt concentration nebulizers, who do very well after the treatment. Inhaling these high salt treatments dries out your lungs and causes a decrease in mucous production.
Studies have shown it has beneficial effects on patients with:
• Chronic Bronchitis
• COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
• Hay Fever
• Smokers Cough
• And various other acute and chronic respiratory diseases
However, like any new alternative treatments, there isn’t extensive research and there hasn’t been a ton of studies to prove or disprove its validity. And halotherapy centers are very careful to point out that they are wellness centers aimed at helping people lead healthier lives.
So if you suffer from a smoker’s cough or have some sort of lung disease where you suffer from an overproduction of mucous and want to help alleviate some of the symptoms, it can be worth a shot.
Halotherapy is a relatively inexpensive, safe, and effective additional therapy for patients with various respiratory ailments. Like with any medical or alternative medicine treatment, do your research so you can make an informed decision. Also, remember to share this information with your health care provider if you decide to use this alternative therapy. The more health care providers that know about this, the more research we can get done on it.
Elkins, M., et al., National Hypertonic Saline in Cystic Fibrosis (NHSCF) Study Group
N Engl J Med. January 19, 2006; 354: 229-240.