Healthy Spaces

Enjoy this therapy with a pinch of salt

Can salt therapy help respiratory symptoms? There is no firm scientific proof, say doctors

A new centre here is offering an ancient therapy that involves relaxing in a room that mimics a salt cave while breathing in salt-infused air.

Salt therapy, or halotherapy, is offered at Breathya, which opened at Parkway Centre in Marine Parade last year. It is said to help improve respiratory symptoms and eczema issues, among other claims.

Verita Advanced Wellness was the first spa in Singapore to offer the therapy - at $100 for an hour - when it opened in 2010. The spa closed abruptly in July 2014.

The future residents of Grandeur Park Residences, a newly launched condominium in Tanah Merah, can enjoy a form of this therapy as it features a Himalayan Salt Room.

At Breathya, a halogenerator fills the air in the salt room with a dry mist of salt particles. The wall is coated with salt and there is salt on the floor of the windowless room.

Packages cost from $50 to $110. Customers can relax on a lounger for up to an hour, letting the micro- salt particles work their supposed magic. Children pay slightly less.

Customers will have to wear a disposable shower cap and shoe coverings for hygiene reasons. They may have to share the room with others.

Salt therapy started in Eastern Europe in the mid-1800s after people found that those who worked in the salt mines in Poland had a very low rate of respiratory illnesses.

Customers put on disposable shower caps and shoe coverings before they relax on a lounger in the salt room to breathe in the salt-infused air. PHOTO: BREATHYA

Dr Kenneth Chan, a respiratory physician at Gleneagles Hospital, said small studies done in Eastern Europe have shown that halotherapy may help to improve the symptoms and lung function in patients with asthma, bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

"However, most of these studies have significant methodologic flaws," Dr Chan cautioned. It is possible that halotherapy works in the same way as nasal sprays or salt-water irrigation, he said.

Many people with asthma, COPD and other respiratory diseases have chronic production of thick sputum. "It is known that inhaling an aerosol of hypertonic saline (high salt content) helps to loosen and bring up sputum from the lungs, making it easier to cough out the sputum," he said.

"In patients with chronic sinusitis, sterile salt-water irrigation is known to help dissolve and clear thick mucus in the nasal and sinus cavities."

Salt therapy, if it works, makes it easier to cough up sputum. It works by drawing water into the airway lining which, in turn, makes the mucus less thick and easier to dislodge, said Dr Chan.

Salt therapy seems to be relatively well tolerated. Side effects include itchy skin, red eyes and throat irritation, he said.

However, it should be considered only as an alternative treatment. He said: "Salt therapy has not been rigorously studied. Hence, no recommendations can be made on the frequency of treatments."

Dr Lynn Chiam, a dermatologist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre, said there is no scientific evidence to show that salt therapy can treat symptoms of skin diseases.

"The few reports on the use of salt therapy for skin diseases are a collection of limited experiences in a small number of patients, which have not been validated," she said.

Dr Chiam said salt therapy, or soaking in seawater, has not been proven to help eczema patients.

These patients should avoid contact with substances which can irritate the skin. She advises people to use moisturisers and gentle cleansers regularly.

"While salt therapy is popular in spas and may give a sense of well- being, there isn't sufficient scientific evidence to show that it helps in skin diseases," said Dr Chiam.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2017, with the headline Enjoy this therapy with a pinch of salt. Subscribe