Salt caves are popping up around the country. Owners say they're great de-stressers but there are also claims these salt-laden spaces can help a range of ailments.
The chairs, the pebbly ground, the hint of salt in the air. But this is no day at the beach. It's a trip to a salt cave or at least it's a room made to feel like one. Why?
Cave fans such as Merle Golden and her mother-in-law say lounging with salt is not only soothing, it's therapeutic.
"My breathing, my lungs, my sinuses and energy and just aches and pains, it just seems to help with everything," said Golden.
"It has helped with my arthritis helped with my sinuses," said Marilyn Golden.
The women are at the Timeless Spa and Salt Cave in suburban Naperville. All around them are thousands of pounds of Himalayan salt. There is no misting or heat. The compound also known as sodium chloride just saturates the air.
Owner Jody Buckle says the experience is designed to mimic real salt caves in eastern Europe where salt room therapy has been popular for hundreds of years.
"There's 84 minerals in this salt that our bodies need that we don't necessarily get all the time," said Buckle.
Head to Chicago and you'll find the Galos Caves alongside the Jolly Inn Restaurant. The original artificial cave is full of salt from the Dead Sea. Children can play in it like a sand box or across the way there's even a salty dining hall where you can eat surrounded by salt.
"Breathing in air saturated with salt, it's completely different and it does have a lot more benefits than set backs," said David Chwala, Galos Caves.
Salt therapy is said to work by loosening mucus, clearing lung passages and reducing inflammation. It's a therapy starting to catch on in the U.S. There are salt lights, inhalers and even salt water to drink.
As for the caves, owners say the ultra fine salt particles seem to soothe skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis and help respiratory problems including asthma, allergies, bronchitis and colds.
"From my perspective, there really is no risk to being in a room full of salt as long as you are not eating it," said Dr. D. Kyle Hogarth, pulmonologist, University of Chicago Medical Center. Dr. Hogarth says there's no hard science in the U.S. to back any of the claims to salt room therapy. He suspects the sodium helps dry the air, making breathing easier temporarily. He stresses this is no replacement for prescribed medication.
"If it helps you breathe better, you know in addition to the medications you are on , I got no problem with it. It's your money and if you want to spend it to go sit in a cave, go ahead," said Dr. Hogarth.
A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found salt therapy improved symptoms in patients with cystic fibrosis. But that research was based on salt nebulizers, not salt caves.
Some doctors do warn that salt can irritate airways causing them to constrict. So patients should consult their practitioners.
The sessions run up to an hour with prices ranging from $15 to $25 a session.
Galos Caves Spa
6501 West Irving Park Road
Chicago, IL 60634-2416
Timeless Spa and Salt Cave
1324 East Ogden Avenue
Naperville, IL 60563