Salt Therapy, a Natural Remedy for Respiratory and Skin Conditions

A woman reclines in a salt room, a salt therapy treatment benefiting the respiratory system

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What Is Salt Therapy?

Salt therapy is as simple as sitting in a special room that recreates the conditions of a salt cave above ground. Salt rooms provide an allergen and pathogen-free environment, giving the lungs an opportunity to heal. They have become a popular treatment for asthma, cystic fibrosis, and a host of other respiratory and skin ailment sufferers. 

Also known as halotherapy, salt therapy is a modern variation of the Eastern European tradition of spending time in natural salt caves for health. Polish physician Dr. Boczkowski was the first to record the health benefits of salt caves in 1843, after observing the good health of salt miners in the Wieliczka salt mines near Krakow, Poland.

It is a popular treatment for children with asthma because it is natural and some say it reduces the need for prescription medications. As with most alternative therapies, salt therapy is also criticized as not being scientifically proven as beneficial.

The Benefits

Those who advocate salt therapy attribute the benefits to the fact that it is a sterile environment, without pathogens like bacteria, viruses, or allergens. Any microorganism that makes it into the cave cannot survive because of the salt. Salt rooms also have a high level of negative ions, which can help improve your mood.

Spending time in natural salt caves is called speleotherapy (speleos means cave). But most people don't have access to a salt cave. So salt rooms were invented in the 1980s to recreate the conditions of a salt cave above ground. Above-ground salt therapy is called halotherapy (halo means salt) and the rooms are sometimes called halochambers. Usually, you can only find salt therapy at specialized businesses. They tend to be more common in large cities, where there are enough people to support the demand. Not many real spas offer true salt therapy.

A Salt Sanctuary In Upstate New York

One of the few places where you can get both traditional spa treatments and true salt therapy is at the Glen Resort and Conference Center in Johnson City, New York. The Salt Sanctuary is part of the Spa at Traditions. The Salt Sanctuary has both a Himalayan salt cave and a modern salt room that can accommodate smaller groups and children.

The pink and white variegated salt blocks from The Himalayas are very beautiful, especially when illuminated from behind, so resort spas like the Spa at Aria in Las Vegas, have used them to build a "salt meditation room." This is a lovely place to hang out, but it is probably not going to give you the therapeutic benefits of an ongoing course of salt therapy.

How Does It Work?

Salt molecules are comprised of a positive sodium ion and a negative chloride ion. While you breathe in the salty air of the therapy room, salt molecules enter the moist airways of the lungs and break down, releasing the negative ions.

The negative ions stimulate airway linings, improving mucus clearance and improving immune response to pathogens. People with chronic respiratory conditions lack sodium chloride in their airway linings and salt therapy helps resolve this deficiency. It alleviates symptoms, helps prevent them from reoccurring, and reduce dependence on medications like nasal sprays and inhalers.

The airborne salt that works on airways also clears up a variety of skin conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema. Furthermore, the release of negative ions can have a beneficial effect on your mood.

Studies suggest that the release of negative ions (what you experience when you step outside into fresh air) during salt therapy reduces stress, headaches, lethargy, and depression, and improves energy and mental acuity while stabilizing mood and sleep patterns. Salt therapy provides the best results when you take it regularly. A single treatment lasts about 45 to 50 minutes. You simply sit in the halochamber and inhale microscopic particles of salt.

Salt Therapy at Home

Another method of getting salt therapy at home is to purchase a salt inhaler. Himalayan salt crystals are placed between the porcelain filters of the device. When you inhale, the moisture of the passing air absorbs micron-size salt particles that then pass into your respiratory system.

You can also buy a Himalayan salt crystal lamp which comes in an illuminated pink or peach-colored tower that ranges from seven to eleven inches high, or as a crystal bowl filled with chunks of Himalayan salt crystals. 

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