Can ‘salt cave’ therapy really help lick asthma?

Pete Flynn's Salt Cave in Edinburgh has seen a surge in clients over the past two years. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Pete Flynn's Salt Cave in Edinburgh has seen a surge in clients over the past two years. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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SCOTLAND’s only “salt cave”, which blasts out salty air said to help treat conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and allergies, has seen the number of its clients surge over the past two years.

However, Scottish health chiefs remain unimpressed by the therapy despite some health boards in England taking part in pilot studies to see if GP referrals benefit patients.

Located in Marionville Road, Edinburgh, the salt cave was set up in 2011 after its owner Pete Flynn visited the health salt mines in Wieliczka and Bochnia in Poland to treat his own medical problems.

First used by the ancient Greeks, the treatment, known as halotherapy, involves people breathing in salt particles radiated out from a machine to match conditions in a natural salt cave. Supporters say it helps loosen mucus and reduce inflammation, making it easier to breathe.

The modern therapy was pioneered in 1843 by Polish doctor Felix Bochkovski after he noticed salt miners didn’t face the same respiratory problems as the rest of the population.

Flynn, a retired marine electronics engineer, stressed that the treatment was complementary to medication.

He said customers include former miners, farmers and paint sprayers as well as young children with asthma. “Older clients tend to be people with COPD or from trades where there wasn’t much care taken with health and safety.

“We also have parents who bring their children in to try something different for their asthma. Children can find hospitals quite scary. The first thing that happens is that someone sticks an oxygen mask over their face making them tighten up and making treatment more difficult.

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“Here they can play with toys and think of it as fun-time rather than treatment.”

Flynn estimated more than 90 per cent of clients had seen improvements in health after the £35 per hour sessions.

Norma McKinnon, from Craigrothie near St Andrews, who suffers from COPD, said salt therapy, along with medication, had improved her life.

“Before treatment I had no sense of taste and couldn’t breathe through my nose. I could hardly walk from the bedroom to the living room. I’ve been going to the Salt Cave once a week for three years and also get treatment at Ninewells Hospital for prescribed medication.

“The salt therapy has worked for me but I can understand health boards thinking the treatment is expensive and being reluctant to try it.”

Four other Salt Caves operate south of the Border with a number of people using part of their Disability Living payment to “buy” treatments.

Dr Samantha Walker, director of research and policy at Asthma UK, said: “There is not enough evidence to show that complementary therapies like salt caves or therapy are beneficial to people with asthma.

“People should discuss their basic care with their doctor or asthma nurse first, and only use complementary or alternative methods alongside their prescribed medicines.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Currently there is insufficient scientific evidence to suggest that salt therapy may help asthma, and therefore this treatment is not a part of routine asthma care in Scotland. The provision of healthcare services is the responsibility of local NHS boards with any decision on new therapies being made on the basis of national guidance, local needs and priorities.”

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