Does Salt Therapy for Allergies, Sinusitis, and Asthma Work?

by Kathi MacNaughton Health Professional

Let's face it... most of us hate the idea of putting medicine, a man-made chemical substance, into our bodies. Plus the fact that medicine costs money. And when you have a chronic illness like allergies and/or asthma, having to take medicine for the rest of your life can definitely be a burden, at least on some level.

But we also like to feel good and be able to carry on with our day to day lives, don't we? So not doing anything to manage our allergy symptoms isn't really the best option either. As a result, many people go in search of a more "natural" solution.

One of the so-called natural therapies becoming more and more popular for treating allergies, sinusitis, eczema, asthma and other respiratory infections and conditions is salt therapy. It's been used for decades in Europe, but has just caught on in the United States the last few years.

Types of Salt Therapy

Salt therapy began in Europe with salt caves, underground caverns with a high percentage of a particular kind of salt crystals, left behind as glaciers retreated centuries ago. Believers reported that spending two or three hours underground in these caverns each day produced relief of respiratory symptoms. In fact, this all started in the late 1800s when it was discovered that Siberian salt mine workers had a surprisingly small number of respiratory problems compared to their contemporaries.

Salt caves or simulated salt cave rooms are now found all over Europe and even in a few places in the U.S. This therapy is called speleotherapy or halotherapy, which means "dry salt aerosol inhalation therapy".

To duplicate that environment of dry salt inhalation, companies have created medical devices called salt pipe inhalers. These hand-held devices contain special dry salt crystals and have a mouthpiece you inhale through (exhaling through your nose). You can also buy salt crystal lamps that supposedly emit salt ions into the air in a room when turned on.

Other forms of salt therapy include salt solutions that you drink, made with special forms of salt crystals (not just everyday table salt) and saline nebulizers, where a saline solution is turned into a fine mist that you breathe in through a tube from an ultrasonic salinizer device.

All of these devices have their rabid supporters and wild claims of cures and symptom relief.

But Does Salt Therapy Really Work?

If you search the Web for testimonials about salt therapy, whether it's salt caves, salt pipes, salt solutions you drink, salt lamps or salt nebulizers, you are going to find hundreds, or even thousands, of stories from people who have thrown away their pill bottles, inhalers and had complete relief from all of their symptoms. It's really quite exciting to read.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, who has appeared on the Oprah TV show and now has his own popular TV show, is reported to have said the salt pipe is one of his most anticipated alternative treatments to try, but I couldn't find any endorsement or mention of it on his Web site, so I don't know how accurate that report is.

Russia has apparently approved halotherapy, while the UK's National Health Service and Asthma UK have not endorsed it. The U.S. FDA has approved the Himalayan salt pipe as a medical device, but that's not the same thing as saying it actually works.

The New England Journal of Medicine published a study in 2006 suggesting that saline nebulizer therapy was a safe and effective additional treatment for cystic fibrosis patients who had used it for 48 weeks.

Unfortunately, there is a complete lack of scientific studies from reputable sources that prove this therapy works for all the conditions, including allergies, that are claimed. Many of the Web sites selling salt pipe inhalers claim there are studies, but don't provide links to any of them.

So, Who Do You Believe?

Most experts are in agreement that salt therapy is safe and won't harm you. If you're looking for a natural therapy, this seems a good one to try. However, they also say that you should consider it a complementary -- or added -- therapy, not an alternative one (not a substitute for traditional medicine-based treatment).

It's a fairly inexpensive treatment, if you go for the salt pipe. They're selling on the Internet in a number of places for under $50. You do have to refill the salt crystals eventually, but your original set up should last for at least a few months, from what I've read.

So, if you want to try a salt pipe inhaler or some other type of salt therapy, talk it over with your doctor. It's probably OK, but don't throw out your pill bottles or asthma inhaler just yet. Wait and see what happens. If you find that your symptoms do go away, as so many people claim, then consult with your doctor about changing your treatment plan before making any further changes on your own.

Who knows? You might be able to reduce your dependence on medication I may try it myself, and if I do, I'll report back here on what I experience. I'd sure love it if it relieved my nasal allergies, eye allergies, eczema and asthma.

Kathi  MacNaughton
Meet Our Writer
Kathi MacNaughton

Kathi is an experienced consumer health education writer, with a prior career in nursing that spanned more than 30 years — much of it in the field of home health care. Over the past 15 years, she's been an avid contributor for a number of consumer health websites, specializing in asthma, allergy, and COPD. She writes not only as a healthcare professional, but also as a lifelong sufferer of severe allergies and mild asthma, and as a caregiver for her mother with COPD.