Originally published on Orlando Home & Leisure – June 2010 issue – written by Leigh Duncan
Salt therapy offers a natural, drug-free alternative for respiratory and skin conditions.
Each breath is a struggle for 22-year-old Katelyn Tinsley. She has cystic fibrosis, an inexorable, hereditary disease that attacks the lungs and the digestive system. While awaiting a lung transplant, she requires constant oxygenation and an array of medical treatments. That includes one form of therapy that’s the most simple, effective and ageless of all: salt.
Once a week, Tinsley spends 45 minutes breathing air suffused with the curative mineral at The Salt Room in Orlando. It’s one of only a handful of halotherapy spas in the United States, although such facilities have been commonplace in Europe for years. Reported benefits include respiratory cleansing, stress relief and improvemerits in skin conditions. Tinsley had been treated with salt-based inhalation using a nebulizer and decided to try The Salt Room’s more intensive form of the therapy after consulting with her doctor. The results have pleased both of them. ‘After a halotherapy session, I can go four hours without my oxygen tanks; something that was totally unattainable before,” Tinsley says. “At the first sign of a cold, I go in for a session and come out feeling much better.”
“Katelyn responded so well that I’ve allowed a few other interested patients to attend Salt Room halotherapy sessions,” says Dr. Daniel Layish of Central Florida Pulmonary Group and co-director of the Adult Cystic Fibrosis Program in Central Florida. “All of them have reported favorable results.”
Although Layish cautions that there’s “not a large body of supporting scientific evidence in the United States” about the efficacy of salt therapy, he believes it has an advantage over nebulizer treatments, which only treat the lungs. With halotherapy, he says, the sinuses also benefit because salt-infused air is pumped into a room and breathed through the mouth and nose.
Salt’s therapeutic use as a mist and inhalant for skin and breathing disorders goes back to ancient Greece. Hippocrates himself is credited with inventing the centuries-old treatment of breathing in steam from boiling salt water. Ben Franklin drank seawater when he had a cold, claiming it cured him by the following day. In an effort to improve their health, some people move permanently to coastal cities, while others regularly visit oceanfront spas and “healing waters” like those of the Dead Sea.
Medical research into the subject dates back to the 1840s, when Dr. Felix Boczkowski documented the low occurrence of respiratory conditions in Poland’s salt-mine workers. His findings led to a form of treatment called speleotherapy (salt cave therapy).
The strategy at The Salt Room involves controlling and purifying the dosage of salt-infused air, says coowner Ashley Lewless. “Controlled salt therapy actually is cleaner, three times stronger than sea air and free of bacteria and allergens,” she says. An asthma sufferer for 35 years, she spent more than a year investigating the salt therapy abroad before opening The Salt Room.
“Orlando consistently ranks in the top five worst cities for mold and pollen count, with countless allergy sufferers,” says Lewless. ‘After seeing a story about salt therapy on CNN – its benefits and approval abroad – I knew Orlando was the ideal place to bring this concept.”
The Salt Room opened its doors in February. It’s one of only six halotherapy centers in the United States. Others are in Naples, Los Angeles, Boulder and New York City, where Grammy-winning recording artist Shania Twain recently paid multiple visits to a new halo/salt-therapy spa.
Therapy rooms at the facility are covered in Bahamian salt, from the floor to ceiling and walls. A specific concentration of finely ground, microscopic, pharmaceutical-grade rock salt 15 pumped into the air.
Dry saline generators are certified as medical devices and widely used throughout Europe. Lewless says their use in North America is escalating, along with public interest in alternative, all-natural health options. I was intrigued enough to volunteer my son, a chronic allergy sufferer since birth, as a client, and accompanied him to several sessions. The experience was relaxing and convivial, if nothing else. In the snow-white Relaxation Room lined with 4 tons of salt, we nestled in comfy chaise lounges amid dimmed lights and twinkling electric candles. Gentle back- ground music softened the halogenerator’s hum. We chatted with other clients, often about allergies and ailments.
Being relaxed and breathing normally, says Lewless, enables line, negatively charged ionized salt particles to enter and clear the lungs and nasal passages. It gets to the deepest part of the lungs, which destroys bacteria and allows impurities to exit the body through coughing, blowing or through the bloodstream, she adds.
Sterility is maintained through occasional replacement of the salt, the wearing of sterile surgical booties and UV lights that kill 99.8 percent of bacteria and iruses on surfaces. The more sessions you book consecutively, the better, says Lewless. Everyone’s different, and the magic number seems to be 10; but it’s
somewhere between three and 10, depending on severity,” she notes.
Like other patients in the chamber, my son and I experienced significant improvement by our second and third sessions. I could feel my own lungs start to clear and could tell that the mucous in my son’s nose was breaking up as he did the breathing exercises he was taught to maximize results. In fact, since completing 10 sessions, my son has nary a stuffed nose, sleeps better and wakes up more refreshed. He’s been nose-spray free for more than two months.
Lewless agrees that part of my son’s improvement can be attributed to changes I made at home: new curtains, washed walls and linens, continuous dusting and the addition of an air purifier in his room. “One of the easiest ways to enhance your therapy is to drink more water, plain water, not just fluids,” she says. Keeping your cells well hydrated helps the body systems work more effectively, which is especially important for those with asthma, COPD and cystic fibrosis. Other steps you can take at home include using only natural cleaning products. Frequent use of traditional glass cleaners, furniture polishes and room fresheners – particularly those that come in spray containers – has been shown to trigger asthma in adults, according to the American Academy of Allergy, sthma and Immunology. Also, UV lights in the ductwork can help to remove the kind of bacteria that exacerbates respiratory problems.
Lewless has recently added acupuncture treatments to The Salt Room’s list of services and plans to add a nutritionist and a massage therapist as well. “We can offer people an affordable way to stay healthy and reduce their symptoms of existing sinus and respiratory issues,” she says. And in this tough economic
climate, who wouldn’t want to breathe a little easier?