It started as a whim, a last chance, a reason to try something new.
When Mia Quinn enrolled her son, Connor, in preschool, she expected the usual cast of germs to waylay his school day on occasion. What she didn’t expect was how much time she and her son would spend in the doctor’s office every season.
“His cold would turn into an upper-respiratory infection and a cough that just wouldn’t go away,” says the mom of two.
Quinn’s paediatrician gave them the standard remedy of antibiotics and steroid breathing treatments to get Connor on the road to recovery. After a second round of antibiotics and multiple daily breathing treatments, the four-year-old wasn’t showing much sign of improvement. What's more, he began to show adverse behaviour issues from the breathing treatments, a common side effect the paediatrician had warned Quinn about.
Frustrated, Quinn researched alternative therapies. She stumbled across halotherapy, which is where you breath in microscopic salt particles to alleviate respiratory issues. Salt rooms claim to offer relief from allergies, mild forms of asthma and a quick reprieve from the annoying common cold symptoms. Quinn began taking her son to a salt room in her hometown of Las Vegas after discussing it with her doctor.
“Our paediatrician was not convinced, but agreed that it would not hurt,” Quinn says. “Salt-saline solutions are widely used in medicine, so she was interested to see if it would help.”
Quinn carted her coughing son to the salt room, a sprawling play place with fat salt bricks on the walls in the shape of a castle, calm paintings, toys, a bubbling fish tank and a mounted TV set. “My son loved going there—he had no idea he was getting a treatment,” says Quinn.
They followed up with their paediatrician at the end of their first week of breathing in fine salt particles from the salt generator in the child’s area. “His cough was better and she said his lungs sounded amazing,” says Quinn. “She agreed that this treatment had made a big difference for him, and even asked for me to bring her some brochures so she could recommend this for other patients.”
Now eight, Connor visits his local salt room weekly and is hoping for a perfect school attendance record due to his good health.
The salt room experience is meant to mimic salt caves that have been considered therapeutic in Eastern Europe for centuries, says Leo Ton kin, founder and chairman of the Salt Therapy Association. There are more than 400 salt rooms in the United States today, compared to about a dozen in 2012, Tonkin says. There are plenty in Canada, too—do an online search for "salt therapy" plus the name of your province to see what's nearby. “It’s now growing because people are becoming more educated about it. It’s becoming more mainstream.”
While there is no proof from a vigorous study that salt therapy works, anecdotally, it appears to benefit those who do it regularly, says Norman Edelman, senior scientific advisor to the American Lung Association. “When you inhale fine salt particles into the lungs, they draw water, which thins the mucus and makes it easier to cough up," he says. "That might make it worthwhile."
Still, Edelman says salt therapy isn't necessarily right for everyone. “I would think that any adult or child that needs to restrict salt intake should consult a physician before they sit in a salt environment,” he says. What's more, he adds, the practice, like any practice, could be harmful in excess: “As with anything, don’t overdo it.”
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