They call it Halotherapy, a therapeutic practice that over the years has spread as a "natural cure" for various problems that can affect the respiratory system and the skin. Halotherapy, also known by the terms salt caves, salt baths or salt rooms, exploits the positive effects of salt and iodine thanks to exposure in an environment that is particularly rich in it. However, many doubts remain about the real functioning of this practice and very little scientific evidence is reported in the literature.
- what are the salt caves
- the benefits
- scientific evidence
- risks and contraindications
When, about ten years ago, we started talking about the salt caves, there was a real boom in requests for relieve ailments such as bronchitis and sinusitis. And so many mothers struggling with the recurring seasonal ailments of their children wanted to try the healing properties of halotherapy. Let's see better what it is.
The salt caves for halotherapy are rooms covered with rock salt on the walls and on the floor where, thanks to a particular diffuser, the humidity and the environment (microclimate) typical of salt caves are recreated. We owe the idea of the salt caves to the Polish doctor Felix Boczokowski who, in the mid-nineteenth century, he hypothesized that salt could have a beneficial effect on the body: in an environment very rich in salt, such as a cave, the micro-particles of salt present in the air would enter the respiratory tract, thinning the mucus and reducing inflammation of the mucous membranes. Hence the idea that the salt caves, as they are designed today, can have beneficial effects on the respiratory tract and on the skin (for dermatitis, psoriasis, etc.).
Halotherapy is based precisely oninhalation of salt vapors (sodium chloride) in order to obtain beneficial effects on the respiratory system and on the skin. In practice, in a 30/45 minute session you can enjoy the same benefits of three days at the beach.Read also: Recurrent respiratory infections: when the child is always sick
If we take a tour of the (non-scientific) articles that we find with a simple online search, we find that the salt caves should serve to:
- improve respiratory health;
- promote the elimination of phlegm;
- reduce sinusitis;
- improve asthma symptoms;
- improve the symptoms of psoriasis and dermatitis;
- relieve stress.
But are the salt caves really effective therapeutically? In recent years there has been no lack of discussions on the subject between those who support its effective usefulness and those who think, instead, that it is just the umpteenth gimmick to get some money out of people.
The cost of a session is around 25/30 euros for an adult and 15/20 euros for children. To obtain the maximum benefits and enjoy effective prevention, however, it would be necessary to repeat the therapeutic cycle (20 sessions) two or three times a year.
Read also: Sinusitis in children: frequency, causes and remedies
Halotherapy is initially widespread in Eastern Europe and slowly it has also taken hold in our country. Unfortunately, however, very few serious scientific studies have analyzed the effects of the salt caves.
One of the most important works on the effects of salt caves dates back to 2022 and is a study by an Australian research team. The authors made a review of 151 scientific studies coming to the conclusion that there was no high quality scientific evidence in favor of halotherapy, excluding the possibility of including salt therapy together with those already ascertained in the treatment of respiratory disorders.
In 2022 on the website of Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), the association that gathers American asthma patients, an article was published that resumes the Australian study of 2022 and that reiterates the lack of evidence valid on the effectiveness of the salt caves. When asked "is halotherapy safe?" the authors responded with a hint of irony: "If your goal is to find a new way to reduce stress, the salt caves can help you: they are cool, quiet and relaxing" explained Maureen George, doctor and board member scientific by AAFA. "If you are looking for a natural way to treat asthma, halotherapy is not for you."Read also: Asthma in Children: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment
In 2022, however, a research highlighted some slight beneficial effects after treatment in the salt caves, but only from the point of view of "quality of life". The study, published in the scientific journal Pediatric Pulmonology, aimed to understand whether or not the salt caves were useful for counteracting the typical ailments of asthma and concluded that, in addition to a slight improvement in quality of life, there were no significant changes in spirometry compared to the control group.
Finally, the most recent study on salt caves dates back to 2022 and confirms what we have seen so far: halotherapy has no demonstrable efficacy.
The scientific evidence, we said, is really scarce, especially as regards safety and efficacy of the salt caves for children. It means that there are no studies that have confirmed the benefits of salt caves on respiratory or childhood dermatological diseases, but there are only some researches carried out on a sample of adults, but these too have already been criticized because of the methods used.
These observations had been made a few years ago by the National Federation of Orders of Surgeons and Dentists and Dr. Elena Calcinai, pediatrician specializing in asthma and respiratory diseases, is of the same opinion: "on the effectiveness of halotherapy in pediatric age there is no scientific evidence and not even in the medical literature there is any confirmation. The articles present, however, concerning an adult population, cannot be taken into consideration for method defects in their execution or due to the small number of the analyzed sample ".
Before carrying out a halotherapy session, always rely on your trusted pediatrician and ask him for an opinion. The risk, in fact, could be that of inhale in a very short time what you usually breathe in a few days at the sea. "Many local health authorities are warning their patients by recommending to always ask your pediatrician or trusted doctor for advice before starting a cycle of halotherapy - explains Dr. Calcinai - the fact of inhaling in a very short time (about 30 minutes) substances that "maybe" naturally we could breathe in 72 hours is not exactly the same thing, as their concentration over time could cause some problems in subjects with certain pathologies ". The salt, in fact, could cause some collateral effect, especially if we are talking about children with hypertension or asthma. Better to evaluate the benefit-risk balance with a doctor.Read also: At the seaside with cough and cold: can it or is it better to avoid?
- salt caves
- 1-2 children years
- airway infections