By Keir Liddle
The pub has been refurbished and kitted out as Scotland’s first “Salt Cave“. The new owner Pete Flynn, who created the Salt Cave with wife Julia, will officially open it next Friday. Flynn told the Scotsman:
“These are all over the place on the continent and there are a couple down south, but this will be the first in Scotland. We were looking to start up a business after years working for Marie Curie, so when we saw this in Ireland we decided to go for it.”
Salt Caves are based on the premise that asthma and allergy sufferers can get relief from their breathing problems by entering a room where the floor and walls are covered with a thick layer of natural sea salt, while particles of dry rock salt are pumped into the room. The therapy originated in Eastern Europe and is also known as Halotherapy.
The evidence presented for Salt Caves is a mixed bag, at best, and leaves me skeptical of the treatment’s benefits. There are around 75+ papers looking at halotherapy (and the related speleotherapy) which are mainly reports of clinical trials. Many of these studies lack validity because of gaps in experimental design and inexplicable failures to report crucial details. However, some research has shown that nebulizer and ionisers can be beneficial for people with some respiratory conditions when used as a complementary, but not alternative, treatment (see here and here).
The Salt Cave website offers treatment for children and adults alike, including the following advice for parents of children with respiratory problems:
Why not try the Salt Cave natural method of healing before starting your children on long-term medication, where the hormone content of many drugs can cause serious and dangerous side-effects?
They back up their claims of the safety for children with reference to this paper, which actually relates to nasal irrigation and not Halotherapy. It concerns me slightly that those presenting the evidence of the safety of a treatment for children cannot tell when a paper is addressing that treatment or not. That said, I can’t see any reason why Halotherapy would be harmful in any way to children, although I am concerned at the impact of delaying treatment for respiratory disorders in children.
Delaying treatment for asthma, for instance, can lead to worsening lung function, and there is evidence that for both children and adults that early and effective therapy with inhaled steroids results in long-term remission in the majority of patients.
The Salt Cave also claims that the treatment is “risk free”, and, while it may seem that Halotherapy has few side effects, there are some minor risks. Some patients may experience itchy skin in the halochamber, and too much aerosol salt can cause conjunctivitis, although it has been suggested this is a result of impurities within the salts used.
In short, this seems to be a case of alternative and complementary types taking an idea that may contain a grain of truth and over-exaggerating the benefits based on very spurious evidence. However, while I remain skeptical of the claims about halotherapy, I would need to look into it more to decide for certain whether it is pure woo, or whether there is something to it.
Nonetheless, when the owners of a business in a coastal city use the following as a selling point:
“When you walk in it is like going to the seaside for the first time in a while”
…whereas, for the sum of £2.60, you can hop on a bus and find yourself at the actual seaside, saving yourself thirty odd quid, then I tend to take their claims with a healthy pinch of salt.