What is Halotherapy? The word speleotherapy has Greek origins and refers to treatment modalities used since ancient times to relieve respiratory, pulmonary and dermatological ailments. Derived from the term for cave which is “speleo” in Greek, this form of therapy involved spending time in salt mines known for their mineral infused environment. Most modern day salt therapy treatments find their basis in speleotherapy, including salt inhalers and salt lamps that are aimed at replicating the breathing environment in salt caves.
The history of speleotherapy!
The potency of salt in sorting lung and nasal congestion was first discovered by miners of the Roman era who experienced a distinctive improvement in their breathing endurance despite spending days slogging in ancient salt mines. However, the discovery only registered with Olympic athletes of the time till 1843 when a Polish physician, Dr. Bochkovsky started recommending salt therapy upon noticing the lower instances of respiratory ailments among salt mine workers despite high incident rates in their villages.
He attributed the resilience to consistent exposure to salty air. To understand if his speculation held any merit, he started sending his patients to these salt mines for therapy. To his surprise his patients reported significant benefits which led to his publishing a paper on the discovery. In time, his protégé set up a spa that offered salt therapy.
After Dr. Bochkowsky, a German physician Dr. Karl Hermann Spannagel discovered that people who sought refuge in salt mines to protect themselves from allied bombings during WW II came out hale and hearty. Since then, speleotherapy has been a rage in Eastern Europe and Russia. The antibacterial, antifungal and expectorant properties of halite (salt in its natural form) have been used to treat a range of conditions. Today, thousands of people make their way to Eastern European nations which boast of a profusion of such underground salt mines which are now being used as therapeutic centers.
How is halotherapy different from speleotherapy?
Halotherapy is an umbrella term that is used to refer to a range of therapeutic modalities that involve the use of natural salt in the treatment of respiratory, skin and other health problems. While speleotherapy also entails the inhalation and use of natural salt, to indulge in this type of treatment, clients have to make their way down to the salt mines. Unfortunately, not all countries around the world have these salt mines.
Typically, clients have to spend about 1-3 hours each day for a duration of a few weeks in the subterranean environment. There is a large body of medical literature available on the complimentary effects of speleotherapy in tackling chronic respiratory and skin ailments. However, this information is just now making its way down to Western Europe and the United States as most of the research papers are in Russian. Since speleotherapy has widely been recognized as a drug and side effect free treatment initiative that has yielded significant benefits to patients suffering from asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases), halotherapy centers have sprung up in most parts of the world.
These halotherapy spas or therapeutic treatment establishments aim to recreate the saline environment of underground salt caves in a controlled setting, so that people who cannot visit nations that have these salt mines can still benefit from salt therapy. Clients are required to spend some time in a halotherapy room where the walls and the floor are coated with salt and a dry salt aerosol machine is used to suspend ionized micro particles of salt into the air.
The effect of halotherapy are pretty close to what one can expect from a salt mine, with the sole difference that in most halotherapy centers, regular refined salt or at the most cheap sea salt is used for the saline aerosol mist. This means that although you get the benefits of inhaling sodium chloride, you are not exposed to the natural minerals which are part of the crystal salt found in underground caves and mines.
Despite this, when researchers conducted a placebo controlled study with 124 participants who had a range of respiratory issues including bronchial asthma, cystic fibrosis, chronic non obstructive and obstructive bronchitis, it was found that halotherapy brought about a significant improvement on various lung function tests . This led the Russian Ministry of Health to grant halochambers the status of medical devices.
The impact of halotherapy / speleotherapy on pulmonary health!
Patients who suffer from respiratory diseases respond favorably to salt therapy / halotherapy for three reasons:
- When natural salts (sea salt, cave salt, rock salt, himalayan pink salt) are used in halotherapy, depending on their mineral composition, these can have a direct impact on immunological responses in the body. The trace nutrients found in salt are potent enough to enhance the activity and the number of T-lymphocytes and/or alter the levels of complementary cells and mechanisms.
- Moreover, the micro particles suspended in the air enter all the bronchial vessels, clearing them of the accumulated mucus. In fact, saline water and nebulization is often used to break down phlegm buildup.
- Finally, mineral rich natural salts have strong antibacterial and antifungal properties which keep bacterial infection inside the pulmonary system in check and reduce the growth of fungal cells while neutralizing the impact of harmful pollutants on the lungs.
Modern day speleotherapy!
Although not available in the USA, if you can take a trip down to one of the East European countries, you will find several subterranean salt mines which have been converted into luxurious spas and therapy centers owing to the numerous benefits of salt therapy. One such center that is particularly famous can be visited at the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in Ukraine.
Known as the Ukrainian Allergologic Hospital, three treatment modalities are used for salt therapy in this center. Access to the salt rich microclimate of the mines is offered to those who are suffering from respiratory issues while the water from the salt mine is being used for treating skin conditions and crenotherapy. Finally, the brine and the mud from a natural salt lake in the area also form a part of the therapeutic initiatives.
In the 30 year history of the center, nearly 60,000 patients with a host of ailments, ranging from sex disorders to post burn scarring and wounds and from bronchial asthma to psoriasis and more have been effectively treated through the use of speleotherapy.
Modern day halotherapy!
Halochambers or halotherapy rooms which are designed to recreate the microclimate inside the salt caverns have become exceptionally popular across the world and can now be found in all continents from Australia to North America and from Europe to Asia. The advantage of modern day halotherapy is that it makes the benefits of natural salts accessible to all, including people who live outside of regions that have underground salt mines.
Another advantage of using these halotherapy room is that the amount of salt in the air can be varied and since a machine pumps the dry salt aerosol into the room, it can be breathed in more easily and deeper. The particles are 1 to 5 microns in size and are dispersed precisely into the room by the halo generator. The treatment is safe for adults as well as children and just like speleotherapy can be used to treat a myriad of health concerns.
Benefits of halotherapy and speleotherapy
Mineral rich natural salts help to reduce inflammation of the skin, lungs and other organs which is vital to jumpstart the healing process. Not only can halotherapy be used in conjunction with drugs meant to restore pulmonary health, but also this form of treatment is considered effective when used as a preventative measure. For instance, a lot of clients who visit halotherapy centers do so to seek relief from chronic cough and congestion caused due to smoking and to battle the impact of constant exposure to pollutants, dust and bacteria, which often cause the onset of respiratory issues.
In addition, clinical studies indicate that regular halotherapy sessions do indeed help to reduce the frequency of asthma and allergy attacks and the number of hospital visits along with drug usage to treat conditions such as COPD and bronchitis.
Because halotherapy helps to improve circulation, it is an effective treatment against a plethora of skin conditions, from acne to eczema and from herpes sores to psoriasis. The minerals found in natural salts help to moisturize and nourish the skin and eliminate infections while providing relief from itching. Ailments that can be controlled through halotherapy include:
- Occupational toxic dust bronchitis
- Cystic fibrosis
- Hay fever
- Smoker’s cough
- Ear infections
- Acute respiratory issues
- Chronic nose and throat illnesses
- Coughs and colds
- Viral infections
The negative ions in the halotherapy room also aid in augmenting energy and mental alertness while promoting an overall sense of well being. The salt micro particles help to:
- Scrub the airway clean of mucus buildup
- Abate inflammation linked to bronchitis and other conditions
- Cleanse and sanitize the bronchial vessels
- Strengthen the immune system
- Regulate immune reaction to allergens
- Reduce smoking which is caused due to nasal congestion
- Prevent and treat flu
Scientific studies that extol the benefits of halotherapy!
- A 2006 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine clarified that the inhalation of hypertonic saline helps improve the lung function of people who suffer from cystic fibrosis.
- Another study published in the same year in the European Respiratory Journal found that salt inhalation helps to alleviate smoking related symptoms including persistent cough and hyper production of mucus.
- A study which was presented in the Journal of Pediatrics in 2007 stated that a 3% hypertonic saline solution used in a nebulizer is a safe and effective treatment for infants who are afflicted by moderate to severe viral bronchiolitis.
- The Canadian Family Physician Journal carried an article in 2003 in which it was claimed that nasal irrigation helps to alleviate a range of nasal and sinus conditions and can bring down antibiotic resistance.
Although rigorous clinical trials on salt rooms published in English are certainly lacking, this has not stopped practitioners of modern medicine from combining the benefits of halotherapy with traditional treatments. Most doctors agree that despite the lack of clinical evidence available to western physicians and pulmonary specialists, the fact is that patients do experience less coughing, shortness of breath and sinus pressure when they use salt rooms.
Bringing the benefits of salt spas to your home!
The healing effects of halotherapy sessions are undeniable; however, these can be quite expensive, depending on the type of treatment sought and the level of comfort offered. For example, a typical session in a general room that is used by 5 to 6 clients will cost $35- $50 an hour. On the other hand, using a private halochamber that comes complete with a TV will set you back by $100 for every hour.
Considering the fact that you will need at least 2 sessions per week and will be asked to go for anywhere between 12 to 25 sessions, you would be spending a small fortune. Unfortunately, halotherapy is not covered by insurance because it is considered a complimentary form of treatment. So, you will have to field the expense out of your own pocket.
However, it is possible to get all the health benefits of halotherapy at a fraction of the cost with simple devices. The biggest advantage is that unlike halochambers, the salt used in salt inhalers and even netipots is Himalayan pink salt. As far as natural salts go, you simply cannot do better than these pink and red crystals that contain as many as 84 of the 92 trace elements found naturally.
Additionally, Himalayan salt therapy / halotherapy can also work for those who suffer from hypertension since it contains 84% sodium chloride as compared to the 90% found in sea salt and 98% found in table salt. Also, unlike sea salts, the purity of Himalayan salt has not been marred by pollution or artificial processing. Extracted through hand mining from the Khewra salt mines in Pakistan, Himalayan pink salt brings the nutritional and energy benefits compounded over 250 million years right into your home.
How is halotherapy different from salt inhalers?
Halotherapy hinges on the use of a mechanical device which infuses the air with salt micro particles. In contrast, salt inhalers are merely porcelain pots with a salt chamber covered by two filters and a pipe for inhalation. Air inlets at the bottom of the assembly supply the air into the salt chamber which gets loaded with the negative ionic salt particles that are pulled away from the crystals by the natural humidity in the air.
The user then draws this air into the lungs experiencing the same therapeutic benefits as a person who indulges in professional halotherapy sessions. The advantage of using a salt inhaler is that you are in control of the type of salt used in the device. In fact, the product comes with its supply of Himalayan salt crystals. Unlike a salt pipe, this device does not have to be thrown out once you exhaust the salt in it. The chamber can easily be refilled.
What’s more is that the salt micro particles are smaller than the those found in the dry salt aerosol. So, there is a lower risk of irritation. Also, the therapy is milder which means it can be used for prevention and to cure the symptoms of respiratory ailments.
Apart from salt inhalers, halotherapy home devices include neti pots which can be used for nasal irrigation and Himalayan salt lamps. These aesthetically appealing products release negatively charged salt ions into the air and can greatly improve the breathing environment in any space of your home.
Halotherapy or speleotherapy are gentle and effective natural relieves that can control the symptoms of many respiratory problems, including chronic conditions such as COPD and asthma. Halotherapy is particularly beneficial for children who suffer from such diseases. Typically, adults are asked to go through 1 hour halotherapy sessions while naturopaths recommend 45 minute sessions for kids.
The only time halotherpay is contraindicated is if there is nasal bleeding, spitting of blood, cardiac issues and severe lung insufficiency linked to an acute pulmonary disorder. Some people may experience minor skin itching after a halotherapy session if they have rashes, skin wounds or particularly sensitive skin. However, this can easily be remedied by massaging the body with essential oils after the session. The benefits of 10 to 12 sessions of speleotherapy / halotherapy can last for as long as a year in an otherwise healthy individual.
Halotherapy still a recently new treatment. If you wish to experience a session of Halotherapy, the best thing to do it to do a local Google search for “salt spas” or “Halotherapy clinics”
If you are interested in learning more about Halotherapy, please visit our FAQs page. There you will find a lot more information regarding Halotherapy and all the Himalayan salt benefits.