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Salt therapy offers skin, breathing relief

August 29, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
For years, we've been warned to hold the salt. These days the latest trend isn't sprinkling it on food, but breathing in salty air. It's known as salt therapy and it promises to ease a slew of skin and respiratory conditions.

Allergies make it tough for Megan Gilley to breathe easy.

"Stuffed up nose. Respiratory problems," said Gilley.

To open her airways Megan heads to salt therapy. The experience involves relaxing in a warm room coated with salt crystals.

Proponents say the particles help ease respiratory and skin conditions, everything from asthma and allergies to psoriasis.

"It has an ancient history and is rooted in Eastern Europe. So once upon a time people in the Ukraine, for example, used to go below ground and breathe in salt caves to help all sorts of breathing disorders," said Sallie Fraenkel, Spa Finder.

Above ground, at modern spas, salt rooms often fill up fast.

Megan says her therapy sessions are a mind- and sinus-clearing experience.

"Just after 20 minutes, my sinuses feel better. I don't feel dry," said Megan.

Dr. Leonard Bielory with the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAI) says it is possible for salt to provide some short-term relief. It's used in everything from I-V solutions to nasal washes.

"When you add salt to any object or any type of tissue, what you do is pull fluid out of the tissue," said Bielory. "So if you inhale salt, the theory is that you will take the mucus that is blocking the airway and make it more 'liquidy.'"

But remember: Salt therapy is not a medical treatment. There are no clinical studies on it in the United States, and no standards for how modern-day spas are constructed.

At certain concentrations, salt can actually irritate the airways.

As far as skin conditions, the American Academy of Dermatology doesn't have a stance, so experts say talk to you doctor and weigh the risks and benefits.

Megan says her treatments are like a day at the beach, without that sticky feeling.

"I wouldn't say that you need to take a shower afterwards, just freshen up and you're good to go," said Megan.

Cost for salt therapy varies from $30 to upwards of $100 depending on location.

In the Los Angeles area, many Korean spas, also known as Jim Jeel Pah, also offer salt-room stays, some for as cheap as $20 for an entire day.

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