Salt Therapy: Does it work?

A revolutionary way to treat breathing and skin ailments is sweeping the nation.

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. While experts say more studies are needed, many people feel it is a breath of fresh air.

Winter weather makes it tough for Megan Gilley to breathe easy.

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

To help soothe the situation, Megan heads to salt therapy, also known as halo-therapy. The experience involves relaxing in a warm room coated with salt crystals while breathing in salt-infused air. Proponents say the particles help ease respiratory and skin conditions, everything from asthma and allergies to psoriasis.

Spa-finder recently named the treatment a top trend.

"We are seeing salt therapy all over the United States. You're going to see more and more salt spas pop up as time goes on," said Sallie Fraenkel with Spa Finder.

Salt therapy first popped up overseas.

"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 Fraenkel.

Above ground, at modern spas like aria, salt rooms often fill up fast, sometimes with people who just need some rest and relaxation.

"It's very quiet in there. And we do have music piped in to some very therapeutic, relaxing chairs," said Michelle Wilkos with Spa at Aria.

Megan says her therapy sessions have been a mind and sinus clearing experience.

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

Dr. Leonard Bielory is with the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. He says it is possible for salt to provide some short-term relief. It's used in everything from IV 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. So if you inhale salt, the theory is that you will take the mucus that is blocking the airway and make it more liquidy," said Dr. Bielory.

Dr. Bielory says it's important to remember that salt therapy is not a medical treatment. There are no clinical studies on it in the U.S., and no standards for how modern day spas are constructed. Still, Dr. Bielory believes it might help certain people.

"So we need to define the population it would benefit, and we need to know to define what type of environment they need to be in," said Bielory.

That's because at certain concentrations, salt can actually irritate the airways. As far as skin conditions, the American Academy of Dermatology doesn't have a stance on salt spas. So experts say talk to you doctor and weigh the risks and benefits. Megan says she definitely feels the benefits and her sessions are like a day at the beach, but 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," she said.

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

And here's something to keep in mind: salt therapy will not affect your sodium level. Breathing in salty air is not the same as ingesting the stuff.