Himalayan Salt chunks with text saying "What exactly... is the allure of Salt Cave Therapy"
Entering a traditional salt cave is a little like stepping onto a beach at sunset. The sand beneath your feet is extra crunchy because it’s made of Himalayan sea salt. The air is briny, and the only light in the room is soft and filtered through a layer of orange pink salt bricks or crystals. In nooks and crannies around the room, there may be fairy lights for added decoration, creating an altogether otherworldly atmosphere.

This is certainly not a dark, damp, bat inhabited cave. This is something altogether different. Think sauna, but without the stifling heat: a true relaxation station.

If relaxation is all the therapy you are looking for, then salt cave therapy will most likely deliver. Rest your eyes on these salty sanctuaries.

Saltana Salt Cave in Ridgefield, Connecticut

Saltana Salt Cave, Ridgefield, Connecticut

Montuak Salt Cave in Long Island, New York

Montuak Salt Cave, Long Island, New York

Primal Oceans Salt Cave in La Grange, Illinois

Primal Oceans Salt Cave, La Grange, Illinois

But besides the powerful benefits of rest and relaxation, what exactly are the benefits of salt therapy? What are salt cave therapy’s origins? And are there studies to back it up?

Definition

Salt cave therapy, closely related to dry salt therapy, also known as halotherapy (halo, is Greek for salt), involves immersing one’s self in a salt covered room or cave—particularly, Himalayan sea salt. Integral to these salt caves, is the use of a halogenerator, a device that helps to distribute salt in the room by grinding the salt into minute particles and then releasing them into the air. The room is relatively cool, with low humidity. A therapy session can be singular, although many studies involve 10-20 sessions. A session is typically between 30 to 60 minutes.

Women in a robe looking at a salt cave therapy wall
Although in essence the active mechanism (salt) of dry salt therapy, and salt cave therapy are the same, Salt cave therapy, or subterraneotherapy, is specific to underground salted environments. These cave-like environments are typically mimicked (with quixotic liberties) in a modern salt cave.

Salt Cave Therapy: Mechanism of Action

The low humidity and relatively high salt concentration in the air is believed to help decrease fluid build up in the bronchial glands, decrease inflammation, and dissolve mucus. The environment also acts as an expectorant (like Mucinex), where the mucus in the lungs is cleared more easily. In other words, if there’s gunk in your lungs, it’s coming out. We’re sorry, there’s just no way to make that glamourous. Well…the fairy lights help. You might want to consider leaving your significant other at home for this one. Carried out with that mucus are elements that are irritating your lungs, like pollutants, and allergens. Salt also inhibits the growth of certain bacteria, and has been shown to even kill bacteria. Halogenerators also act as ionizers, releasing negatively charged ions. As we exhale positively charged ions like bacteria, pollutants, and allergens, these negative ions attach themselves to those positively charged particles and bond together to create dense particles that cannot float in the air. This helps to maintain air that is free and clear of potential respiratory irritants. In other words, these caves are much more effective than your average Himalayan salt lamp. We’re still keeping those around though, for sheer ambiance factor.

Himalayan Sea Salt chunk with wood base

Salt Cave Therapy: Origins

According to the Salt Therapy Association, modern salt therapy originated from salt mining caves in Europe and Russia. Miners, in the process of mining, acted as human halogenerators in a naturally ideal environment. In Poland, Dr. Feliks Boczkowski observed that these minors oddly—benefitted from robust health.  A true mystery at a time when mining was considered a hazardous occupation. After observing their apparent good health, and even more interesting, their healthy lungs, Dr. Boczkowski, opened up the first therapeutic salt cave in Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland in 1839. During WWII, German physicist Dr. Karl Hermann Spannagel, later observed that citizens whom had used a local salt mine as a bomb shelter, experience marked improvements to their respiratory health. Dr. Spannagel believed his observations were a result of the presence of trace minerals found in salt slabs and particles. Since then, several studies have been conducted on the possible health benefits of dry salt therapy for asthma, allergies, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and Cystic Fibrosis.

Halotherapy and Asthma & Allergies

Wild pollinating plants that cause asthma and allergies
Will salt cave therapy help with your asthma and allergies? Besides the numerous positive reviews, there are a few studies that support this. One 2015 study involving 21 patients with bronchial asthma, conducted in the famous ‘Wieliczka’ Salt Mine, in Poland, reported significantly improved scores on the Asthma Control Test (ACT).   Maximum expiratory flow (MEF) was also significantly improved.  However, it should be noted that participants underwent 6 hours of treatment, daily for 3 weeks: a serious commitment. One 1995 study, conducted by Saint-Petersburg Pavlov National Medical University, in Russia involving 124 participants, (54 males and 70 females) revealed that salt cave therapy helped decrease bronchial obstructions, lessening the need for medication and increased Forced Vital Capacity (FVC). The study involved daily 1 hour sessions, for a period of 10-20 days. In another 2016 study, 55 children suffering from untreated mild asthma aged 5-13 years were split into groups where 29 children were sent into a salt room with a halogenerator and 26 were sent into another salt room without one, there was a significant increase in BHR, bronchial hyperresponsiveness in the group with the halogenerator.  Researchers concluded that dry salt therapy has some beneficial effect on children with mild asthma. The study was conducted over 7 weeks, with a total of 14 sessions.
Heavy pollinating plants that cause people to suffer from asthma & allergies

Cystic Fibrosis

image text "Cystric Fibrosis"
Cystic fibrosis is characterized by the build-up of mucus in the lungs, pancreas and other organs of the body. In a healthy individual, mucus acts as protective lining in the body, shielding internal organs from viruses and bacteria, while helping to retain moisture. In the case, of cystic fibrosis however, the excess mucus can clog airways and trap bacteria in. Pockets of bacteria separated by mucus has even led to bacteria evolving individually within the lungs, a clue as to why individuals suffering from cystic fibrosis can get stubborn lung infections. Caused by a defect in the CFTR gene, there is unfortunately no cure to date. There is some use case for salt cave therapy to help treat cystic fibrosis. Researchers have found that a hypertonic saline solution could help clear out mucus, improving lung functioning and clearing out airways. These findings later led to speculation on halotherapy and possible benefits it could have on the treatment of cystic fibrosis. In one study, 6 cystic fibrosis subjects reported to have an increase in lung function and sputum production after 5 halotherapy sessions. Another study involving 12 CF patients and salt cave therapy reported improved breathing, and where the patient’s chest felt less tight.

Halotherapy and Eczema

Person with Eczema
Often conditions like asthma, and allergies are linked to skin conditions like eczema. Salt cave therapy has been shown to help with several skin conditions including psoriasis, pyoderma, eczema.
Person with Eczema

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Person with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
COPD, characterized by chronic mucus build up, coughing, emphysema, and bronchitis is an exhausting disease. Although COPD is mainly caused by smoking, non-smokers who lack the protein, alpha-1 antitrypsin are susceptible to COPD. Other factors that can manifest COPD include exposure to certain heavy gases and fumes at work or home, or through cooking without proper ventilation. Although regarded as irreversible, there is some research supporting relief from therapies like halotherapy. One study published in Medical and Health Science Journal, in 2010 by the Republican Specialized Scientific Practical Medical Center of Phthisiatry and Pulmonology, in Uzbekistan had promising findings. The study consisted of 128 patients suffering from COPD, 74 men and 54 women aged 51-53. The test group included 103 patients who received salt cave therapy in combination with a more traditional treatment for COPD: В2- agonists and inhaled corticosteroids. The control group consisted of 25 patients who received only the standard therapy without salt cave therapy. The test group received a total of 18-22 salt cave therapy sessions. The purpose of the study was to determine if there are positive immune system benefits to salt cave therapy. The study reported an overall immune status improvement in 97.8% of the treatment group, vs. 67.5% in the control group.

Risks and Limitations of Salt Cave Therapy

Limitations

Salt Cave Therapy is not a single solution for any ailment. The most common sentiment between positive studies centered around halotherapy is that it is to be used as a complimentary treatment, to be used in conjunction with other more effective treatments. One session is not enough. Most studies recommended a minimum of 10-20 sessions, and where studies involving less sessions (5-9) showing less promising respiratory results.

RISKS

Things to consider prior to scheduling your first salt cave therapy session.

  • If you have extremely sensitive skin it would best steer clear of salt cave rooms prior to consulting your dermatologist as exposure to large amounts of salt can cause rashes.
  • Hypertension or high blood pressure rises with salt consumption.
  • Individuals with Kidney Disease should hydrate prior to scheduling a salt cave therapy session. Usually it is prohibited to bring water into salt caves as humidity is strictly controlled.
  • Because salt cave therapy has been shown to boost immunity, it is not advised to undergo halotherapy during chemotherapy. It is however a potential treatment in between chemotherapy sessions to help the immune system bounce back more quickly.

If you have any of these conditions or any other existing condition it would be best to consult a medical practitioner before scheduling your first salt cave therapy session.

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