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Salt binds water from the air and holds it in the airways. This makes salt air a humidifier for the mucous membranes and makes it easier to cough up in the event of infections of the respiratory tract. Using salt caves for healing purposes was originally a Polish tradition. Doctor Feliks Boczkowski found in 1843 that miners in the Wieliczka salt works were more resistant to respiratory diseases than workers in other industries. As a result, the first salt caves established themselves as therapeutic centers in the salt caves of this region.
In the second half of the last century, salt caves became popular in Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine as contact points for patients with bronchial asthma. On the one hand, natural karst caves exist in these countries, and on the other, salt has been mined here for centuries.
Word got around in Germany about the presumed curative effects of salt caves, but no tradition developed here to use salt caves in therapies. The reason was simple: in this country there are many salt pans, a lot of salt domes and salt mines as well as various stalactite caves, but rarely economically used salt deposits are combined with popular caves.
In the beginning was the cave
In Slovakia, for example, things are different. Few countries in the world have as many accessible caves in such a small area as Slovakia. Artificial or natural salt caves exist today in Germany, France, Italy, Greece, Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic, Croatia, the Netherlands, the USA and Saudi Arabia.
In addition to general "wellness", they serve to treat asthma and treat allergies. For example, the Devil's Cave is known in Germany, Hallein near Salzburg in Austria, Solotvino in Ukraine, and Perm in Russia.
Natural and artificial salt caves
The microclimate in Solotvino is said to be suitable for alleviating lung diseases. A disadvantage of the natural salt caves is their small number. Those affected have to travel far, adjust to the climatic conditions, and prepare for a wait in the nearby sanatoriums.
Halotherapy offers an alternative. Here the patients go to artificially created salt chambers. Their quality fluctuates enormously and the technical effort is not small. The air must be free from disease-causing bacteria, fungi and allergens, and the salt in the air must have an appropriate concentration; In addition, the air humidity and temperature must be right.
The salt should contain at least 90% NaCl, the air humidity between 45 and 60% and the temperature at 18-24 degrees.
Russia is the pioneer of this halotherapy, and in 1990 the Russian Ministry of Health recognized the procedure as a healing method. This primarily concerns asthma, chronic bronchitis and other diseases of the upper and lower respiratory tract.
Tibor Barta from the Otorhinolaryngological Clinic in Bratislava-Petrzalka recommends open-air culture in salt caves for the following diseases: acute and chronic respiratory diseases such as runny nose, vocal cord inflammation, asthma, healing of operations on the nasal septum, nasal turbinate, pharynx and larynx.
The healing methods include inhaling in sanatoriums, walks by the sea and visiting the natural salt caves in Slovakia. He believes that the cures in the salt caves are helpful for diseases of the throat, nasal cavities, larynx and thyroid glands.
Dr. Igor Kajaba, also from Bratislava, complements this list with inflammation of the esophagus, stomach, duodenum, small and large intestine. Also for stomach ulcers, diseases of the gallbladder and biliary tract, autoimmune liver diseases as well as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.
Salt caves in Germany
Karl-Hermann Spannagel realized in 1950 that the Kluterthöhle promoted health. Locals had withdrawn here during the Second World War to protect themselves from bombing. Spannagel's therapeutic approach did not spread: This was mainly due to the small number of natural salt caves in Germany.
It is only since around 2000 that the number of artificial salt grottos in spas, spas and wellness centers has been growing.
Artificial grottos consist of tons of rock or sea salt, for example from the Dead Sea or Pakistan. Nebulizers or artificial waters as well as salt generators create the necessary salt climate.
In contrast to the sauna, visitors do not have to wear swimwear or go naked to the grotto, they just change their shoes for over-the-top socks. The cell phone is switched off. You stay in a deck chair for about three quarters of an hour.
So far there is no scientific evidence for the healing effects of the artificial salt chambers in Germany, more precisely, a verifiable benefit could not be proven. The suppliers state that inhaling the salt and other minerals and trace elements such as calcium, magnesium and iodine relieves chronic respiratory infections, serves relaxation and strengthens the immune system.
Regardless of the salt caves, the brine photo therapy follows a precise process, and the medicinal effects of the salt water bath and UV radiation, for example against psoriasis, have been proven.
However, there are no standards for the grottos: According to a judgment by the Higher Regional Court in Hamm (Az-I-4 U 124/12), operators of (artificial) salt caves in Germany are not allowed to advertise the medicinal properties.
What do doctors say about the healing properties of the salt caves?
Dermatologists confirm that neurodermatitis or psoriasis can be treated with a damp salt spray. For this, however, the air humidity would have to be at least 80% and the patients would have to expose their bare skin to the fog.
The average salt chamber with around 50% humidity is not sufficient for this.
Pneumologists recommend inhaling saline solutions for respiratory diseases.
As no medical benefit has been proven, health insurance companies generally do not cover the costs of a visit to the salt room.
Nebulizer and rock salt
Going to a salt room may not be a cure for serious illnesses, but it can help to reduce stress and thus improve subjective well-being. However, the salt cave is not a salt cave.
The Fürth salt cave, for example, advertises with brine nebulization, i.e. ultrasonic nebulization, in which salt particles penetrate the lungs and skin. This should help with deep-seated coughing mucus and inhibit inflammation of the skin. There is an oxygen ionization module in the nebulizer, which delivers an oxygen concentration of 90%.
The Oasa salt grotto in Helmstedt clad the walls of the grotto with 13 tons of unrefined “Himalayan” rock salt from Pakistan.
The Hesse Salt Cave in the Hotel Ziegelruh atomizes salt brine with an ultrasound device into nanoparticles.
Today there are various pure salt caves in Germany, but most of them are integrated in extensive wellness centers, together with saunas, thermal baths, massages and solariums.
The Landhaus-Die Arche in Mecklenburg offers classic massages, but also lymphatic drainage and a full-body salt massage. The Soltau-Therme advertises the possibility of inhaling the mineral-rich salty air directly in the sauna area. A salt chamber is therefore a module in a series of saunas.
In Bad Schönborn is the "Dead Sea Salt Cave" in the largest thermal spa in south-west Germany, together with a Finnish loft sauna, a health center and a cosmetic studio. Salt from the Dead Sea is actually special: in addition to sodium chloride, it contains magnesium, potassium, calcium, bromine and iodine.
The Spessart Therme offers a children's grotto with a sandpit, where children can dig around in the salt; the salt cave in Chemnitz invites you to "crystal sound worlds".
The Magedeburger salt grotto has an additional salt cabin, i.e. an infrared heat cabin with brine fog and ionized oxygen.
Who shouldn't go to a salt chamber?
A salt chamber is not suitable for people who suffer from hyperthyroidism. These should at least first discuss with a doctor whether the increased iodine content in the air causes problems for them.
Those who are afraid of caves should not go to salt chambers, because they could experience anxiety there. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Dr. phil. Utz Anhalt, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch
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