“Halos’ is Greek for salt. The therapeutic effect of salt was first described by Polish physician F Bochkowsky in 1843 based on observations made at the local salt mines. At the onset, it required access to the underground salt mines of Europe, which limited the rate it has caught on. 

The Stos Spa near the Jasovska Cave of Slovenia providing speleotherapy for respiratory illnesses and conditions.

Halotherapy fast facts

  • The therapeutic effect of salt was first described by Polish physician F Bochkowsky in 1843, based on observations made at local salt mines
  • In 1958 the first salt medical resort for patients with lung disease opened in the mines of Velichka, Krakow
  • Countries that have created speleotheraputic clinics in natural caves include Austria (SalzebadSalzeman), Poland (Velichka), Romania (Siget), Azerbaijan (Nakhichevan), Kirgistan (Chon-Tuz), Russia -Perm area (Berezniki), Carpatho-Ukraine (Solotvino), Ukraine (Artemovsk, Donetsk area), Byelorussia (Soligorsk)
  • It was assessed that during one session the participant absorbs, on average, 13.7 mg of sodium chloride and 1.50 mg of iodine.

What makes an artificial salt room effective?

There are many modern spas that claim to offer halotherapy when they are just rooms decorated with salt. The difference is in the halogenerator, which controls the salt content in the air. A salt room does not provide any more benefit than any other meditation center. The details of a therapeutic salt room are below.

  • Simulates a natural salt cave microclimate.
  • Uses a halogenerator or similar aerosolization device to control the salt particle size and concentration
  • Air is purified of dust and allergens
  • Air is 40-60% constant humidity
  • 20-24C (68-75F)
  • The air is iodine, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, copper, selenium and bromine.
  • Salt bricks and salt coated walls are purely aesthetic, and don’t contribute to the air composition
  • The salt deposits come from the Dead Sea, Black Sea, Klodawa, Bochnia or Pakistan
  • A salt concentration of 1 mg/m3 is considered therapeutic
A simple but effective artificial salt therapy room.

Benefits

Large halotherapy spa in Spain.

The alleged benefits of halotherapy are based largely upon ancient medical teachings in the natural underground salt mines. Due to the limited physical availability and high cost, science has been slow to take a thorough look at this mode of therapy. The physical and mental benefits are many, but more are based on ancient teachings than on modern science.

  • Bacteriostatic (one of the ways antibiotics kill bacteria)
  • Increases respiratory immune activity
  • Decreases respiratory infections
  • improves respiratory function
  • Reduces coughing fits
  • Reduces respiratory discomfort
  • Improves sleep
  • Reduces airway inflammation
  • Decreased respiratory infections
  • Prevention of the common cold
  • Reduced pulmonary allergic symptoms
  • Reduction of dental pain
  • Reduction of neuralgia pain
  • Improves microcirculation

Who might Halotherapy help?

A salt therapy room in Bad Soden-Salmunster Germany

The conditions halotherapy are thought to help with are mostly related to the lungs, sinuses and skin.

  • Acne
  • Seasonal allergies
  • Amygdalitis
  • Asthma
  • stings and bites
  • Bronchitis
  • Treatment of burns and sunburns
  • Cellulite
  • chronicle fatigue
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases
  • Common cold
  • cystic fibrosis
  • dermatoses
  • Depression
  • Dermatitis
  • eczema
  • furuncles
  • gingival diseases
  • overstrain and exhaustion
  • Laryngitis
  • low stress resistance
  • inability to lose fat tissue due to disturbed metabolism
  • Neurodermatitis
  • vegetative nervous system disorders
  • Otitis
  • Pharyngitis
  • Psoriasis
  • Pneumonia
  • Rhinitis
  • Sinusitis
  • quitting smoking
  • Toxic inhalations (i.e. inhaling tobacco smoke, inhaled chemical toxins)

Can it hurt?

Of course it can hurt. Everything can hurt someone, you should definitely discuss your risk of being that someone with your doctor prior to engaging in any new medical therapies. Overall, it is safer than most medications. 

  • Contraindications (people who should not do this)
    • Acute renal diseases
    • Angina pectoris
    • Treatment resistant asthma
    • Bronchial asthma triggered by changes in humidity, air temperature or other microclimatic parameters
    • Cerebral trauma
    • Hyperthyroidism – due to the absorbed iodine it can cause a storm. If you have had your thyroid surgically removed and now are dependent on replacement hormone, then this does NOT apply to you. 
    • Epilepsy
    • Decompensated heart failure
    • Recent heart attack
    • Severe hypertension
    • Lung cancer
    • Neuroinfections
    • Pulmonary mycosis
    • Status asthmaticus
    • Tuberculosis
  • Side effects and adverse events
    • Skin irritation
    • Throat tickle
    • Drainage of accumulated mucus (this was listed as an adverse effect in a study, but the goal in other studies)

What does the science say?​

The verdict is not yet in. If it were substantial evidence, it wouldn’t be considered alternative medicine.

  • There have been very few rigorous studies published on this topic
  • The studies mentioned are of low quality, and are only referenced for lack of better options. They are mostly case control studies. There is only one randomized study.
  • Some of the studies are halotherapy and others are speleotherapy, the natural underground caves  whose microclimate halotherapy is derived from
  • Some studies show improvement in psychophysiological health.
  • Other studies report improvement in respiratory efficiency and mucus elimination, easier to expectorate.
  • Studies have shown a significant increase in vital capacity, forced vital capacity, forced expiratory volume in one second, peak expiratory flow and forced expiratory flow at 50% of FVC  after halotherapy treatment.
  • Majority of COPD patients showed improvement in symptoms
  • Very good results have been obtained in atopic asthma, with noticeable improvement in broncho-obstructive syndrome and improved pulmonary ventilation.
  • Have been shown to minimize tiredness in athletes and negative effects of long and intensive exercise
  • A recent study of bronchiectasis patients found halotherapy to be of little benefit. This is a disease of tiny, sticky airways for which halotherapy should be most ideal to treat
  • In 1999 Procter & Gamble was able to get a patent delivering aerosolized salt based on ancient salt mine therapies. https://patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/fe/15/01/48fbaf96eeda59/US5881720.pdf
  • A small study of an inhaled pharmaceutical halotherapy showed subjective improvement in 65% of patients but no objective improvement in lung function in bronchiectasis patients.
  • Some of the traditional methods of delivery involve pouches of salts heated to 50-60C. It may be the contact with the heat itself rather than the salt that confers the benefit.
An artificial halotherapy room at the Naperville Salt Cave. The additional attention to a meditative atmosphere may bestow additional benefits.

It is safer than almost any medication prescribed by Western Medicine. With a few exceptions, it won’t hurt to try, and it just might help. If there are any questions about your suitability for this therapy, please discuss it with your physician. If you can find a center, make sure you are getting what you pay for. When you visit an artificial halotherapy center, it is most important to ask about the salt generator. Without this, the room may serve as a beautifully serene restful place with music and photo therapies, but it will not have the therapeutic benefit of halotherapy. It would be like an expensive and brief meditation retreat.