THE SALT ROOM ALTERNATIVE Most people live a long way from the nearest salt mine, and travel is often expensive and inconvenient. In order to create simulated salt
environments, the Russians first built salt therapy rooms in some clinics during the 1980’s. Usually lined with crystalline rock salt (halite), these are also known as halochambers (from the Greek halos meaning salt) or salt spas, and their use for healing is known as halotherapy. Over the space of an hour, the idea is to switch off and relax with leisurely activities such as watching videos or reading. These rooms are often promoted as benefiting all breathing–related conditions, and helping skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema and dermatitis. Widely found in Eastern Europe, and in
Russia where they are certified as medical devices, salt rooms have since spread to North America, and have been in Australia for nearly a year, with one in Sydney, two in Melbourne and more on the drawing board. Their walls are made from blocks of salt sourced from Europe, and there is crushed salt underfoot. They were given a mention late last year on the TV show, Today Tonight. In order to work properly, salt rooms
require a halogenerator, a unit that circulates salt aerosols, and most importantly of all, the size of particles floating in the air needs to be closely regulated. It is generally considered that, for the best results, the temperature should be maintained between 18-24 degrees Celsius, and humidity should be around 50%. Negatively electrically charged (negative ion) particles have the advantage of repelling one another and avoiding clumping together, while dry particles are considered to have a stronger impact on the airways.
HOW IT WORKS As a rule, the smaller the particle, the greater the health benefits for people suffering from respiratory conditions. While particles above 10 microns have no
effects, those between 5 and 10 microns are able to reach the trachea (windpipe) and central bronchial area. Below 5 microns, they reach far into the lungs, and between 0.1-2.5 microns they penetrate deep into every corner of the bronchi (passages that connect the trachea to the lungs), bronchioles (finer connecting passages), and alveoli (small air sacs within the lungs). These particles kill pathogenic micro-
organisms by dehydrating microbial cells, soothing inflammation, reducing the thickness of mucous, and restoring the body’s ability to remove both mucus and pathogens from the airways. Potential side-effects are minimal. The
amount of salt breathed in is extremely small, and will have no effect on people with conditions that are worsened by salt intake, such as hypertension. Some people feel a tickling in the throat, and sometimes, especially for bronchitis patients, in the days following there is an increase in coughing before a general improvement is experienced. Other salt therapy users have also been known to experience dyspnoea (breathing discomfort). Importantly, there is no risk of a negative
interaction with any other drug, making salt therapy an ideal complementary approach.
SALT PIPES To make salt therapy available to the maximum number of people via a portable unit, salt pipes are now on the market. These first appeared in Hungary in
2002, and are usually made from ceramic materials. Lasting for about five years when used for around 15-20 minutes daily, they are not designed to be refillable. After breathing in from the inhaler through the
In 1843, a Polish
doctor named Felix Boczkowski made the important observation that salt miners never suffered from respiratory conditions, and were in good health despite their arduous work.
mouth, it is important to exhale through the nose to ensure that the respiratory tract is fully cleansed. Tests in the capital
Budapest found that 56% of people using these pipes experienced improved lung function, and 74% had an improvement in their breathing. The pipes are used by the Csepel Hospital in Budapest for outpatient medical care, and are now available in other European countries including the UK. It is possible to buy
a newer design of dry salt inhaler that contains halite crystals from Praid. Another option is a pocket salt pipe that has a nasal adaptor, and delivers salt aerosol particles via the nose directly to the upper respiratory tract including the sinuses. Cystic fibrosis is an hereditary condition
that causes the airways to become clogged with mucous. Sufferers observed an improvement when they were at the beach, and in time this led to the development of a special nebuliser. This small mask covering the nose and mouth dispenses a salt water aerosol in a 7% solution, as opposed to the regular medical saline solution of 0.9%. Again, the daily use was about 15-20 minutes, and it continued for a year. A study in the New England Journal of
Medicine in 2006 summarised the results of a three-year Australian trial involving 164 patients that was carried out by the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney. It identified a moderate improvement in lung function, and the number of flare-ups that led to people being admitted to hospital was halved.
DIFFERENT OUTLOOKS In European countries where salt therapy is a part of their history, it is largely recognised as an effective form of healing. Halotherapy devices are often approved by the health authorities, and salt therapy is frequently covered under the public health care system.
In contrast, the experience in other
Western countries has been different. Salt therapy has been slow to catch on due to a combination of factors; a lack of familiarity with Russian literature as an obstacle to reading scientific studies, a narrow focus on drugs, and general medical conservatism. As part of Channel Seven’s Today Tonight coverage, viewers were informed that doctors urged people not to follow ‘alternative therapies’ ahead of ‘proven treatments’. Most drug therapies for respiratory
conditions such as steroids and corticoids have only palliative effects, and can cause some serious side-effects. Salt has been found to work very well, with the benefits being long-lasting, and as a method of treatment it is also cheaper. As salt therapy spreads around the world,
it will be interesting to see what further benefits it can provide. Will we soon see salt rooms dotted all over the country, with some of the more affluent designing them into their houses? Only the future will tell.
Martin Oliver is a writer and researcher based in Lismore (Northern NSW).
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