Can dry salt therapy rooms help you breathe easier?

Dry salt therapy is a growing trend across the country. Around 275 dry salt therapy rooms have opened in the U.S. and Canada, up from about a dozen in 2010. People who run salt therapy rooms take pure salt and grind it into particles that circulate through the air, reports CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller. When folks breathe it in, it’s supposed to fight toxins and open up the airways. 

But many in the medical community say they’re not yet ready to recommend the treatment to patients.

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Salt therapy room at Breathe Salt Rooms CBS News 

Ellen Patrick invited us into one of the four “salt rooms” she owns in the New York City area. Salt covers the floor, lines the walls and flows through the air.

“It’s as simple as sitting back and just breathing deeply,” she said.

Her website claims “halotherapy,” as it’s known, can help alleviate symptoms of a variety of conditions including asthma, COPD, sinus infections, colds and the flu.

“Salt has natural healing qualities which are antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, antiviral,” Patrick said.

Pulmonologists like Dr. Gaetane Michaud often have patients inhale high concentrations of salt with a nebulizer.

“Essentially what it does is it actually helps kind of clear secretions and mucus from the airways,” Michaud said.

The salt, she told us, helps thin out the mucus in the airways, making it easier to cough out. But she warns people with asthma should check with their doctors before entering these rooms, as it could increase the risk of an asthma attack among some patients.

“I don’t see a medical utility for this and I do see potential for harm,” Michaud said. 

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Salt bed therapy at Breathe Salt Rooms CBS News

“What do you say to doctors who have really raised a concern?” Miller asked Patrick.

“Doctors who are raising concern should look at studies,” Patrick responded.

Numerous studies overseas have explored the benefits of halotherapy, including one from Israel earlier this month which found salt rooms “may have some beneficial effects in mild asthmatic children.”

Yet research in the U.S. is lacking. The American Lung Association reports there are “no evidence-based findings to create guidelines” for salt therapy.

But some with asthma, like Antonio Staropoli who’s been doing it for about six months, say it’s helped them.

“It’s helped in terms of physical activity. I’ve noticed a difference,” Staropoli said. “I don’t get as winded as quickly, so it definitely helps in that regard.”

Europeans have known about this for a while, seeking treatments in the Polish salt mines since the mid-1800s. These rooms are designed to simulate those caves.

“This is not alternative medicine,” Patrick said. “It’s complementary medicine. It’s to be used in conjunction with your doctor’s care and whatever medication you’re currently using.”

A typical visit to a room like this costs about $35 to $50 for a session lasting between 30 minutes and an hour. Some salt rooms also offer therapy for children and yoga classes.