Salt Therapy for Allergies
Halotherapy– is an alternative treatment that involves breathing salty air. Halotherapy comes from the Greek word, “halos” which means “salt”.
Salt exposure, as a therapeutic treatment, developed after 1843, when a Polish physician Feliks Boczowski noticed that his patients who worked in salt mines, had no respiratory or lung problems compared to other miners. When more physicians began to notice the same, salt caves started to pop up around Europe as a therapy for lung ailments and respiratory conditions.
Allergies and Asthma are generally considered inflammatory conditions. Allergic asthma is associated with airway hyperresponsiveness and tissue remodelling within the structure of the airways. Inflammation causes the inner linings of the airways to swell and produce mucus which makes the airways more sensitive to asthma triggers.
Anti-inflammatory medicines are therefore used to help reduce the constriction of airways and prevent asthma attacks. Inhaled and systemic anti-inflammatory medications include corticosteroids.
Sodium chloride (salt), can act as an antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory to clear toxins and other viral causing agents from the nasal cavities and airways. When salt is inhaled, it is thought to reduce inflammation which causes constriction leading to clear airways.
Dry and Wet Salt Therapy
Halotherapy can be broken down into dry and wet methods, depending on how the salt is used.
The salt in the air by the coast is moist and wet. This salt in the air is due to evaporation from the ocean. Many people are familiar with wet salt therapy- this includes saline solutions, salt baths, salt scrubs, nebulizers, gargling solutions and using salt for nasal irrigation.
Dry salt therapy is based on dry salt in an environment that is completely void of moisture and humidity. This includes salt rooms, salt caves, salt grottos and salt chambers.
There are many man-made salt caves and therapeutic treatment rooms around the world which offer a relaxed spa-like environment created by huge blocks of Himalayan or sea salt which surround the inner relaxation area. The salt crystals are crushed and sprinkled on the floor and salt also gets dispersed through a halogenerator which scatters microscopic particles of sodium chloride through the air for visitors to inhale.
Himalayan Salt Lamps
Himalayan salt lamps are carved from the mineral-rich, pink Himalayan salt and are believed to have various health benefits. They are believed to purify the air in your home, soothe allergies, boost your mood and help you sleep.
These lamps are said to be “natural ionizers,” meaning they can change the electrical charge of the circulating air. Ions are compounds that carry a charge because they have an unbalanced number of protons or electrons. Negative ions occur naturally in nature; for example, at waterfalls, in waves, thunderstorms and in heat. They can also be created artificially by air ionizers.
It is suggested that Himalayan salt lamps may produce ions by attracting water particles that evaporate off as a salt solution when heated by the lamp, forming mostly negative ions. The negative ions accelerate your ability to absorb oxygen and balance your serotonin levels. Serotonin (the feel good hormone) is a chemical produced by your body which is linked with mood and the feelings behind happiness and can make you less prone to anxiety. Injured and diseased cells in the body are electron-deficient, so submitting the body to an electron-rich environment benefits and heals cells by absorption.
A salt pipe is an inhaler containing salt particles. Ingested salt and inhaled salt are processed differently by the body.
Once inhaled the salt particles are claimed to absorb irritants including allergens and toxins in the respiratory system. The salt dilates (widens) the airways, breaks up the mucus and reduces inflammation, resulting in clear airways. The salt particles are said to have a similar effect on skin by absorbing bacteria and impurities responsible for skin conditions.
In order for any allergen, microbe, virus, bacteria or mold to infect the lungs, throat or sinuses, it must first enter the body through the mucus membrane. The mucus membrane is the first line of defence against infection, which is followed by the second line of defence – the immune system.
The mucous membrane mainly consists of cells covered by hair-like structures called cilia. The cilia act like brushes to move the allergens, mucus, and excess fluid up and out through the nose or mouth. Sometimes when your asthma is uncontrolled, or when person trying to expectorate (cough or spit out phlegm from the lungs or throat), the cilia may not be working efficiently which causes a cough to develop. However, a salt inhaler may help support the cilia, making it easier to expectorate.
The layer of salt and water that our body creates to coat airways in the lungs is only about a millionth of an inch thick. When it becomes irritated, mucus thickens excessively and can be difficult to clear. When salt particles are inhaled from a salt inhaler, salt cave, at the coast, they will fall on the airway linings and draw water into the airway, thinning the mucus and making it easier to raise, thus reducing the cough.
The composition of mucus varies between people and differs on factors such as age and diet, implying that healthy people have healthy mucus. The time of year can impact the composition of mucus, which may suggest why we often get colds or the flu during winter months.
In a pilot study, 35 patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who used a dry salt inhaler, improved their six-minute walk times. It’s important to understand that dry salt inhalation does not reverse asthma or COPD, but it can have therapeutic benefits in relieving mucus congestion and improving the ability to breathe, therefore improving quality of life for chronic sufferers of these conditions.
Cystic Fibrosis patients are believed to have lower naturally occurring salt concentrations in their bronchial tissue. Researchers have also identified that the mucus is not thinned appropriately in these patients. Therefore, salt inhalation, which reaches the bronchus, benefits Cystic Fibrosis patients due to mucus thinning. Likewise, ex-smokers suffer from a lot of phlegm (mucus) in their throat for 12-18 months after quitting so dry salt inhalation supports this process by breaking down the excess phlegm and help to expel it out of the body.
General recommendations are once or twice daily in the morning and evening. Duration of inhalation ranges from five to fifteen minutes depending on the condition. However, because dry salt inhalation does not address the original cause of the respiratory condition, long-term, continued use may be necessary for chronic conditions alongside medication. No contraindications have been observed with current pulmonary, bronchial, or asthma medications.
*It is advised to speak with your doctor first before starting salt therapy.*
Benefits of Salt Therapy
Cleanses the Respiratory System & Clears Mucus
Inhaled salt particles are claimed to absorb irritants including allergens and toxins in the respiratory system. The salt dilates (widens) the airways, breaks up the mucus and reduces inflammation, resulting in clear airways. The salt particles are said to have a similar effect on skin by absorbing bacteria and impurities responsible for skin conditions.
Salt has antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral effects on body cells. This is why we clean wounds with warm saltwater. The salt helps your cells consolidate inflammation and mucus, for your body can get rid of it.
Individuals with asthma, bronchitis, allergies, cystic fibrosis, psoriasis, and general skin inflammation have experienced major improvement after salt therapy treatments.
Improves Air Quality
Himalayan salt lamps are believed to filter dust, mold, mildew and pet dander from the air indoors. Similar to a nasal saline spray which uses salt to clear airways, the salt lamp is said to help to relieve allergy symptoms. Those who struggle with asthma claim to benefit from Himalayan salt inhalers.
The claim that they are beneficial for people with respiratory conditions may be partly based on the ancient practice of halotherapy. In this therapy, individuals with chronic respiratory conditions are said to benefit from spending time in salt caves due to the presence of salt in the air and miners who worked in salt mines, had no respiratory or lung problems compared to other miners.
However, there is little scientific support for this practice, and more research is needed in this area.
Salt is also said to produce negative ions. This theoretically causes your body to release more serotonin, one of the chemicals behind the feelings of happiness. They can also be created artificially by air ionizers. In addition, negative ions occur in nature; after a thunderstorm, at waterfalls, and in ocean waves which all provide a sense of well-being. Many people use a Himalayan salt lamp to get the benefits of negative ions at home. However, there is very little research done in this area proving that salt lamps release negative ions, so more research is needed.
Some animal studies have shown that exposure to high levels of negative ions may improve levels of serotonin, a chemical involved in mood regulation and researchers found that people with depressive symptoms who were exposed to very high levels of negative ions reported improvements in their mood. However, human studies which have investigated the psychological effects of air ionization found no significant effects on mood or feelings of well-being.
Furthermore, tests on air ionizers, which emit high levels of negative ions, haven’t yet been shown to benefit people with asthma or improve respiratory function.
Himalayan salt lamps and inhalers are thought to improve sleep by calming your response to stress. Cortisol is generated by stress which obstructs the flow of melatonin (the sleep hormone). When your stress response is controlled, your body can produce melatonin as normal and prepare your mind and body for bed. Himalayan salt lamps may also promote a good night’s sleep by relieving respiratory issues that may cause disrupt sleep.
However, scientific studies have not yet examined the effects of Himalayan salt lamps on sleep but a review of the effects of air ionization (negative ions emitted into the air as a way to clean it) on relaxation and sleep didn’t find any evidence of a beneficial effect
There are very few studies on salt therapy with salt inhalers and Himalayan salt lamps so there is a lack of scientific evidence behind the benefits of these claims. Some suggest that the benefits are due to a placebo effect, therefore additional clinical studies are needed.
I have a salt lamp in my bedroom because I like the look of it and the ambience it creates. As I personally notice a relief with my allergy and asthma symptoms when breathing in the salty sea air, I like the idea of having salt-based products in my home environment. I also use a salt inhaler which I personally feel a huge relief from as it helps to dilate my airways which allows me to breathe easier. I use the salt inhaler in the morning after my breathing exercises to help open my airways and this works wonders for me.
It’s important to recognise that many people have different respiratory conditions and different levels of asthma so what works for one person may not necessarily work for another but if you have any experiences with salt therapy, I would love to hear them in the comments below.
**If you have any concerns regarding your allergies or salt therapy for your allergies, you should speak with your doctor.**