Is Halotherapy a Real Treatment for Sinus Congestion?
One thing you can count on in the world of ear, nose and throat medicine: there’s never a dearth of new folk remedies. Something about the respiratory system just feels ripe for hacking, and each year brings a bumper crop of new devices designed to help you breathe better.
Dry salt therapy, also known as halotherapy, is the latest fad in this milieu. Based on the apparently salutary effects of spending time in certain high-sodium caves, halotherapy involves nothing more complicated than breathing air with a very high salt component:
Dry salt therapy (or, as it’s officially known, “halotherapy”) involves basking in the sodium-rich air of small, custom-crafted “salt chambers.” Its lack of regulation and scientific backing hasn’t stopped its surge in popularity. According to Ulle Lutz, president of consultation service Salt Chambers Inc., about 150 halotherapy facilities have sprung up in the U.S. in the past two years.
So does it work? This particular practice has better scientific grounding than most: it is well known that salt can draw out moisture due to a process known as osmotic pressure, which causes fluids to travel toward areas of greater concentration. At least one author found a clear effect:
Like “wet salt” therapy—neti pots or saline nasal spray—10 minutes in a salt chamber will clear out more mucus than you knew you had. As someone who’s been intimate with many neti pots during allergy season in my life, I noticed I was breathing through my nostrils more easily and breathing deeper into my lungs immediately after I left and for a couple of days afterward…But so far, success stories like mine are largely anecdotal.
And that’s the point. Absent controlled and scientific studies, we only have the testimony of a select few to rely upon. So if you do try a halotherapy chamber, just remember the standard advice for all such unproven techniques: take it with a grain of salt.