Updated 10 April 2019

What is 'salt therapy' and can it help with sinusitis?

Here's a look into what salt therapy entails and just how helpful it actually is.

Halotherapy or "salt therapy" has become increasingly popular in the US, UK and more recently South Africa, among those looking for a way to ease their sinusitis symptoms. 

There have also been multiple claims that it can be used to treat other respiratory conditions such as chronic bronchitis, allergies and asthma.

But what does science say? Can salt therapy help relieve sinusitis? 

What is halotherapy? 

Halotherapy is a natural alternative treatment that involves breathing in salty air.

Although the origins of halotherapy date back to the medieval era, researchers have only recently started studying its potential health benefits.

Halotherapy is usually split into two methods  dry and wet – depending on how the salt is administered.

Dry method

The dry method of halotherapy involves a man-made "salt cave" that is free from humidity. These salt caves are offered as a treatment in many spas – however, many companies have created spas dedicated to halotherapy alone. 

The temperature is usually cool, set to 20°C or even lower. Sessions in these caves last about 40 minutes.

These rooms contain a halogenerator, which is a machine that grinds salt into microscopic particles and releases them into the enclosed room. Once these salt particles are inhaled, it is claimed that they absorb allergens and toxins from the repository system. 

As you breathe in the dry microscopic particles, the salt penetrates the sinus cavities to reduce swelling and inflammation, helping to remove any stuffiness.

It is also believed that salt produces negative ions, theoretically causing your body to release more serotonin

Wet methods 

Halotherapy can also be done using a mixture of salt and water. Wet methods of halotherapy include:

  • Gargling with salt water
  • Drinking salt water
  • Bathing in salt water
  • Using salt water for nasal irrigation
  • Flotation tanks filled with salt water

It is widely believed that your nasal passages will begin to open naturally and sinus pressure be relieved after using any of these methods.

According to believers, not only does the therapy help ease your symptoms, but the salt also helps to fight infection and prevents it from recurring. 

But what does the research say?

Science has not paid much attention to halotherapy for the most part – however, there have been a few studies conducted on the topic. While most of these studies have been conflicting or indecisive, some have shown promise.

In a study published in 2007, people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) had fewer symptoms and improved quality of life after halotherapy. Halotherapy was also found to trigger anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic responses in people with asthma and bronchitis in a 2014 study.

However, according to a review published in 2014, most studies on halotherapy for COPD are inaccurate.

According to another study published in 2013, halotherapy did not improve the outcome of lung function tests or quality of life in people with non-cystic fibrosis bronchiectasis, a condition which makes it difficult for mucus to be cleared from the lungs.

While there has been research on halotherapy's effects on certain conditions, there has not been sufficient research on its effect on sinusitis for a concrete conclusion to be drawn. According to science, salt therapy cannot help with sinusitis. 

Are there any health risks?

Although halotherapy is considered safe for most people, research has not been conducted on its safety. In addition, halotherapy is usually done in a spa or wellness clinic without trained medical staff on hand to handle medical emergencies. Keep this in mind if you consider trying halotherapy for sinusitis. 

If you’re interested in trying halotherapy, talk to your doctor first and be sure to take note of any new symptoms you experience after the therapy.  

Image credit: iStock 


Ask the Expert

Sinusitis Expert

Dr Gary Kroukamp MBCHB, FCORL(SA) is an ENT Specialist, practising from rooms at Kingsbury Hospital in Claremont, Cape Town. He also has a teaching sessional appointment as an ENT Consultant at the Tygerberg Hospital. He is a member of the ENT Society of South Africa and the South African Cochlear Implantation Group. His interests in the ENT field include sinusitis and sinus surgery, nasal allergy and ENT conditions in children.

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