People with chronic respiratory conditions are used to paying close attention to their breathing. That usually includes inhaling medication and exhaling for lung function tests. But as a popular alternative treatment, salt therapy for COPD has some patients trying a more natural approach.
What is salt therapy?
Also called halotherapy, salt therapy includes spending time in natural salt caves or man-made salt rooms, and using dry salt or saline solution inhalers.
Modern interest in salt therapy is credited to a Polish doctor named Feliks Boczkowski. He observed that salt miners suffered from fewer lung problems compared to the general population. During World War II, Dr. Karl Hermann Spannage had a similar finding when he connected the good health of some of his patients with time spent hiding in salt caves during Allied bombing.
Neither of these observations is from thorough research. But the idea that spending time in salty environments is good for health has persisted over the years.
A recent increase in the popularity of salt therapy for COPD has led to trendy salt spas opening in cities across North America. Therapy rooms in these spas feature walls and floors built from Himalayan rock salt, and more salt particles are pumped into the air. All you have to do to enjoy the supposed benefits is sit back and relax.
How might modern salt spas help?
People who operate and frequent these salt spas give a few different reasons for why salty air might help with respiratory issues. Salt prevents the growth of some microorganisms, which is why it’s been used for centuries to preserve food. The idea is that salt could have the same effect with unwanted bacteria in the lungs.
Another theory involves salt’s role in the movement of water across cell membranes. Proponents of salt therapy believe that inhaling salt particles clears mucus and reduces inflammation in the respiratory tract.
Other salt therapies
People who aren’t interested in lounging around in a salt spa might opt for a dry salt inhaler. This form of salt therapy is advertised as an on-the-go treatment that delivers an inhaled dose of dry salt.
Some doctors do use inhaled salts in medical treatment, but this is usually in the form of nebulized saline solutions to help patients clear their airways.
Reasons to be cautious
There haven’t been enough high quality studies on salt therapy for COPD, and it isn’t recommended by most doctors.
As for financial risk, salt spas and inhalers cost money, but they aren’t likely to bankrupt anyone. Discontinuing medication in favor of salt therapy could make COPD worse, and patients should pay close attention to their symptoms when trying anything new.
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