As already predicted, the withdrawal of coronavirus containment measures have led to an autumn-winter marked by a multitude of respiratory diseases, but especially three: COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus. Unfortunately, babies and very young children are suffering the worst, because in countries like Spain all this has also led to a large wave of cases of bronchiolitis. Most of these respiratory diseases are caused by viruses, whose infections usually go away on their own. At most, you choose to treat specific symptoms, such as mucus. In the most serious cases, it may be necessary to resort to inhalers or even supply oxygen. But usually the situation clears up without treatment. However, many people cannot conceive of letting the disease progress normally and resort to alternative treatmentsas the halotherapy.
In fact, this triple epidemic of respiratory viruses is driving many people into the spas equipped with salt caves to undergo this therapy, which promises to decongest the respiratory tract, absorb pathogens and toxins, and modulate the immune system. We have even been able to see reports about it in news programs on television channels such as antenna 3.
They present halotherapy as a complement to modern medicine. This is an important fact: do not ignore the doctor’s advice. But, even so, can we say that there is any use in entering a salt cave? To answer you have to start at the beginning, but we can anticipate that, with science in hand, it does not seem to be of much use.
What is halotherapy?
Halotherapy is a technique of traditional medicinewidely regarded as pseudotherapy. As its name indicates, it consists of the use of salt for healing purposes. These can be several, although it focuses especially on respiratory infections.
It began to be used in the Middle Agesalthough it became more famous in the 19th century, when it was observed that the workers of the Wieliczka salt mine, near Krakow, did not suffer from these types of infections as frequently as the rest of the population. Science must always begin its investigations on the basis that correlation does not imply causation. However, far from verifying if it was really the salt that was promoting these benefits, it did not take long for the first halotherapy center in Poland. The people who visited it were delighted, possibly because, as is the case with most viral respiratory infections, these ended up subsiding on their own. But they thought it was because of the salt, so its fame spread throughout Europe and soon there were many centers in capitals across the continent.
Today they can be found almost everywhere in the world. Although there are two ways to carry out halotherapy. These centers, as well as many spasusually offer the dry version, which consists of emulating the environment in which those Polish miners lived. Artificial caves are built with the walls covered in salt, so that it enters the environment and is inhaled by the users. This supposedly helps break the mucusdecongesting the respiratory tract, but it also absorbs the pathogens that cause infections.
Halotherapy advocates maintain that this absorption of microbes can also occur on the skin, so it could be useful for dermatological infections. In addition, some point out that salt promotes the synthesis of serotonin, so it could help people with depression.
On the other hand, there is the wet halotherapy which is based on the use of salt water solutions, which they can be drunk, inhaled, or used in baths.
What does science say about her?
For centuries, the efficacy of halotherapy has been basically a call to faith. There were no studies or any kind of explanation about its effectiveness. Simply, a correlation in some miners that was never established as causality.
However, over time, some studies have begun to be carried out. These have been aimed at establishing whether it can be effective against respiratory infections. About the skin and the mood is all so anecdotal that it has hardly been studied.
Now, do these studies show that it serves to treat bronchiolitis, asthma, flu or any respiratory infection? It is not clear. There are studies that point in both directions. However, even those who point to its effectiveness often conclude that more research is needed on it. In fact, in 2014 a review was published that indicated that the majority of studies that indicate its efficacy against chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) they are defective. And that is the big problem. There is a lot of research out there, but it is usually studies with few participants or poorly designed ones.
Can halotherapy be dangerous?
Some pseudotherapies do not deliver what they promise, but they do not pose any risk either. For this reason, beyond the damage to the pocket, Nothing usually happens “to try”. Other pseudotherapies, on the other hand, can be dangerous.
Broadly speaking, it could be said that halotherapy is in the first group, since it does not pose any risk. However, there are some potential dangers that should be considered.
To begin with, with dry halotherapy, it must be taken into account that salt walls can be an ideal environment for growth of certain types of bacteria. It is true that most do not survive high salt concentrations, but some of those known as halophilic they could become pathogenic. This is something that has been studied in salt mines, not in spas, but it highlights the need to take care of the disinfection of these places. On the other hand, generally the salt caves of the spas they are not usually individual. Several people can be in them at the same time and the fact of introducing a group of patients with respiratory infections in a closed room does not seem like a very good idea.
As for wet halotherapy, it should be noted that drinking salt water can be very dangerous.
Finally, we must not forget that bronchiolitis patients are usually very young children and that there are not many studies on the safety of halotherapy in this population group. Yes, one was published in 2008, in which it was concluded that inhaling a 3% saline solution it is not dangerous for babies with bronchiolitis. However, since halotherapy is not typically performed in medical settings, this is often not standardized and cannot be guaranteed to actually be that concentration.
Therefore, since there are no better alternatives than the modern medicine, the best option will always be to stay with it. They may not promise us quick solutions, but they are the best they can give us.