The therapeutic effects of salt have long been believed to treat a range of respiratory illnesses. Speleotherapy is a unique kind of climatotherapy making use of different characteristics that are particular to salt mines and caves for the therapeutic treatment of various health conditions, especially those which are respiratory and skin-related. It is believed that this unique environment reduces the concentration of irritants in the cave/mine, resulting in masked or suppressed symptoms when patients are in its vicinity. The vital agents believed to contribute to therapeutic effects are air quality, synchronization of climate variables including temperature, humidity, and salt aerosols. Halotherapy stems from speleotherapy and aims to mimic salt cave environments in above-ground facilities.
At present, halotherapy centers are rising in popularity in the wellness and alternative health fields. The use of salt-based therapy in the treatment of respiratory diseases presents a potential opportunity for fewer contraindications that are related to standard medications. Additionally, salt-based therapy opens exploration for treatment in low-resource settings, a worthy investment considering the high cost of standard medications for respiratory diseases.
The importance of focusing on respiratory diseases cannot be understated. Lower respiratory infections, including asthma, were among the leading causes of death in 2010, disproportionately affecting children under five and the elderly. These infections persist in industrialized and developing countries and are rapidly increasing in prevalence with the spread of urbanization and the progressively worsening quality of air in many countries. This forecasted increase in respiratory diseases will result in increased burdening of health care systems worldwide as well as the quality of life for those affected.
Over the past few decades, various studies have been conducted to study the effectiveness of salt therapy in respiratory disease treatment. Many of these studies provided somewhat positive or inconclusive results. Beamon et al. (2001) performed a meta-analysis of controlled clinical studies assessing the effectiveness of speleotherapy in asthma treatment. The authors concluded that there was not enough evidence to determine whether speleo-therapeutic interventions are effective for the treatment of chronic asthma, and that randomized controlled trials with long-term follow up are necessary. In another review by Blackhall et al. (2012), randomized controlled trials evaluating ionizers as asthma treatment were reviewed. As with the previous review, the authors concluded that the effect of ionizers on asthma is far too inconclusive. Contributing to these results is the lack of methodological rigor and quality, as all reviewed studies lacked statistical power to detect changes due to small sample sizes. Despite the reported success of salt therapy as a treatment for respiratory illnesses and its frequent adoption by wellness practitioners in respiratory disease treatment, it is still not certified by the medical community by the vast majority of countries.