Speleotherapy is exposure to salt air for therapeutic purposes. Salt mines and caves with heavy mineral deposits are typical locations for this kind of treatment. Patients can also use tools such as halogenerators, salt pipes, and salt water aerosol to simulate the conditions of salt caves. Speleotherapy is also known as salt therapy, salt air therapy, or halotherapy. It is most often used to treat respiratory problems such as asthma and bronchitis.
The practice of speleotherapy began in the 1950s in Poland. When it was discovered that salt miners had remarkably low incidences of respiratory diseases or tuberculosis, patients with these conditions began to spend time in the mines in search of a cure. It became a widely accepted treatment in Central and Eastern Europe for many years before it began to gain acceptance in other parts of the world.
Salt caves have atmospheres that are believed to provide immediate and long-term relief to a patient. The air in caves tends to have a low dust volume, which can reduce the irritation suffered by individuals with allergies. Salt air is also believed to dissolve phlegm. When the patient is in an atmosphere free of these allergens, the body supposedly not only gets temporary relief, but it also has a better opportunity to heal without as many elements present to attack the body.
Caves also tend to have a high, but safe, level of carbon dioxide, a nontoxic gas that humans exhale. Breathing in a slightly higher level of the gas can allow for deeper breathing. Any form of deep breathing can help individuals with respiratory issues to train the body to breathe properly.
Halogenerators, salt pipes, and salt water aerosol can also be used to mimic the effects of spending time in salt caves. A machine called a halogenerator crushes rock salt into small pieces and discharges it into the air. In order to do the therapy, the patient usually sits with the machine in a small room lined with rock salt. A salt pipe is filled with crushed salt, which the patient inhales. Salt water aerosol is also breathed in, though from a spray bottle instead of a pipe; it is primarily used to break up mucus.
Speleotherapy has been historically practiced more frequently in Eastern European countries. Western nations such as the United Kingdom and the United States have been slower to adopt the practice due to skepticism about its effectiveness. There is a general consensus among medical communities that the therapy is at the very least not harmful to patients.