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If you have experienced the pleasure of visiting a beach or natural salt cave, you may appreciate the growing appeal of salt therapy or, officially, halotherapy. Spa centers and eager guests believe this approach can alleviate conditions ranging from asthma and pneumonia to acne, stress, and fatigue. Although some medical professionals bemoan a dearth of substantial scientific evidence for halotherapy, a remarkable body of research does support the mounting anecdotal claims of the treatment's benefits.

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What Is Halotherapy?

Halotherapy is a dry salt therapy that involves a special nebulizer called a halogenerator. This equipment mills pharmaceutical-grade sodium chloride into microsized particles and emits those particles into the air of a salt room (haloroom or halochamber). The Salt Therapy Association refers to this space as an active salt room. The airflow, temperature, and humidity are controlled in both active and passive salt chambers. Like their counterparts, passive salt rooms are filled with Himalayan, Mediterranean, Dead Sea, or a combination of salts, but they do not have halogenerators. Consequently, passive rooms have a lower concentration of salt than active rooms. Industry leaders maintain that true, effective halotherapy is the inhalation and absorption of microsized salt particles, and can therefore only be achieved with a halogenerator.

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History

Salt has been a prized commodity throughout history for its health and preservative benefits. In 1843, physician Feliks Boczkowski noticed that men working in Polish salt mines almost never had respiratory diseases or colds like the rest of the population. He determined that this was because the air the miners breathed was saturated with salt. Gradually, salt mines in Poland and Europe became sanatoriums that attracted visitors from around the world, and halotherapy became a new treatment. Later, demand in Eastern Europe and Russia gave rise to artificial salt rooms that mimic natural salt caves. Halotherapy now enjoys growing popularity all over the world for its reputed physiological and psychological benefits.

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Antibacterial Effects

Several scientific studies suggest that inhaled dry sodium chloride particles have bactericidal properties that could help reduce inflammation throughout the respiratory tract. These particles reportedly accelerate the movement of mucus, assisting the body in ridding itself of foreign allergens and residual toxic substances. Halotherapy may contribute to a marked reduction of the need for antibacterial medication to prevent dysbacteriosis in children.

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Anti-Inflammatory Effects

Exposure to allergens may cause the immune system to inflame the sinus airways or skin. Dry salt can absorb edema from swollen mucous linings in the respiratory tracts and sinuses, enhancing drainage and expulsion of contaminants that spur or prolong allergic reactions. Russian researchers assert that halotherapy can help rehabilitate individuals with acute pulmonary diseases and inflammatory symptoms, including chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, acute bronchitis, and bronchiectasis.

inflammation halotherapy Jan-Otto / Getty Images

Skin Health

Halotherapy may help balance pH levels and promote regenerative and reparative processes in the skin. The dry salt particles boost the activity of the skin's ion channels, leading to a reduction in inflammation and harmful bacteria. Treatments appear to exert a cleaning effect on the skin and improve microcirculation. Preliminary studies and anecdotal evidence point to significant improvements in skin conditions such as

  • Acne,
  • Allergic and Atopic Dermatitis,
  • Eczema,
  • Onychomycosis,
  • Psoriasis,
  • Rosacea, and
  • Skin aging.
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Preventative Benefits

Russian studies indicate that halotherapy can be an effective preventative and rehabilitative treatment for children in educational institutions. There is evidence that proactive courses for chronically ill children cut the risk of recurring symptoms by up to half and help reduce recovery time. Tobacco smokers and individuals with external risk factors may benefit from halotherapy's potential to reinforce respiratory system protection. Scientists observed persistent therapeutic and prophylactic effects lasting up to 12 months following halotherapy treatment.

benefits of halotherapy

Mental Health

Research attests to the psychological benefits of spa treatments such as halotherapy. A study involving over 3,000 Japanese workers linked spa use frequency to improved physical and mental health markers such as fewer sick days and better sleep. Another joint study by George Mason University and Florida State University found spa therapy correlated with lower occurrences of hospitalizations and absenteeism from work.

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Home Halotherapy

Salt pipes mimic the microclimate of a haloroom at home. These apparatuses are refillable medical units with a salt chamber, two filters, and a mouthpiece. Supporters recommend limiting salt pipe use to a short period each day. Suppliers insist that you can obtain the same benefits as a spa visit at a significantly lower cost, although no scientific data confirms this yet. Several other at-home halotherapy options are available for private purchase. A prefabricated salt therapy bed or box takes up about as much space as a tanning bed. A salt booth is about the size of a stand-alone sauna. A pre-made, portable salt room is yet another choice for those who want to be at home with their treatment.

halotherapy at home skynesher / Getty Images

Side Effects of Halotherapy

During treatment, participants may experience increased coughing and secretions. These are likely signs of respiratory tract clearance. Rare skin irritations usually resolve by the fifth session. Eye irritation or conjunctivitis are rare, and adverse issues typically clear quickly and may be avoided by keeping the eyes closed while in a haloroom.

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Contraindications

Halotherapy should be used in conjunction with medical protocol, not as a replacement. Experts generally recommend talking to a primary care provider if you are hoping to treat a specific condition. The Salt Therapy Association cautions against halotherapy if a person has

  • a contagious disease,
  • open wounds,
  • fever, cancer,
  • hyperthyroidism,
  • a mental disorder,
  • severe hypertension,
  • an acute-stage blood disorder,
  • active tuberculosis, or
  • claustrophobia.
halotherapy wanderluster / Getty Images

Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.