Salt cave therapy to treat allergies
It's touted as an all-natural way to help relieve symptoms from allergies, asthma, even bronchitis and the common cold.
So we went inside what's known as a salt cave to find out how it works. And I talked to an allergy specialist about the therapy.
It may look like a boy and his mom are just relaxing. But the room they're in has salt walls and a salt floor, and a fine Himalayan salt mist is flowing into the air.
The boy and his mom are actually treating their allergy symptoms.
Lynn Zehr says every year, just as the cherry blossoms bloom, her son Eric gets a runny nose.
"I'm always sniffling," said Eric.
Lynn also gets a runny nose, scratchy throat and watery eyes.
"I just want to rip my eyes out," said Lynn, laughing.
Last year, instead of taking allergy medication they started coming to this replica of a salt cave called The Salt Cavern in Clifton, New Jersey. The Bask Spa at the new Revel Resort in Atlantic City has a similar room. Theirs is called the Salt Grotto.
So how are they said to work?
"When you breathe in the salt, it goes into your body, it reduces inflammation, kills bacteria and gives you a better breathing capacity," said The Salt Cavern's Willie Dunai.
Allergist Dr. Sandra Gawchik of Crozer Chester Medical Center said the theory is not without merit. It comes from the World War II era, when people hid in natural salt caves in Germany to escape bombing.
"And they found coincidentally when the people came out of the caves they had less bronchial symptoms," said Dr. Gawchik.
That's why salt cave replicas are popular in Europe and popping up now in the U.S.
Annebeth Eschbach of the Bask Spa says in addition to relieving allergies, spending time in a so-called salt cave can also help balance the body.
"Breathing that in and absorbing all of those minerals into your body balances out the negative and positive ions," she said. "Going into the Salt Grotto for 45 minutes is equivalent to spending 3 days at the beach. You just feel magnificent."
Back at the Salt Cavern, Lynn does say it is relaxing. As for whether it helps her and her son's allergies, she says it does.
"For me it's less of the sniffling, less of the itchy throat," said Lynn.
"Is the sniffling better or worse when you leave here?" I asked Eric. "Better, much better," he replied.
But Dr. Gawchik says don't get too excited. There is no real scientific proof it works. Still, if you want to try it, she said this:
"It's not going to hurt them, but there's no guarantee it's going to make a difference. So they have to look at how they are going to spend their money, because they have to pay for it."
As for more proof, Willie Dunai argues the evidence is in how people feel: "The more you go, the better you feel," he says.
"If nothing else, it's 45 minutes of mom relaxing," said Lynn.
And sometimes you can't put a price on that.
Another point: if you are in a room that is climate-controlled and with no allergens, then you should feel better regardless.
But salt caves advocates say the benefits last beyond that. They recommend spending 45 minutes 3 to 5 times a week in a salt cave replica during allergy season. The cost ranges from $15 to $50.
Doctors warn not to go off your allergy or asthma medication if you try this.
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