Friday, 3 February 2012

Salt Caves Not Proven for Aspergillosis

Salt caves are generally disused salt mines that have been hollowed out of rock some distance below ground level, some of which are elaborately decorated and run for long distances underground becoming popular tourist attractions.
Other salt caves have started to take on a new, innovative function. Various stories believed to have originated from miners working in salt caves in Roman times have lead to a conception that visiting a salt cave is beneficial if you are suffering from respiratory problems. There are several claims of reduction in symptoms consistent with a reduction in lung tissue inflammation, some of which have been tested and are published in the scientific media 10 - 20 years ago.

Referred to as Halotherapy there is an assumption that people who visit a salt cave will tend to inhale very fine particles of salt (sodium chloride) deep into their lungs and that this can be a good thing for illnesses such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Despite this being used as a therapy in some parts of Europe and some reports appearing to confirm some beneficial effect (leading to several expensive therapy's being offered widely on the internet)  this is still a largely untested practice with few proven benefits - which isn't to say that it doesn't work for some but is a warning that those who try it shouldn't expect positive results.

Offering this type of therapy is very much the domain of those who seek to try to help vulnerable people but who offer no guarantees as to whether or not it will have any beneficial effect. It is not something that the major medical professional regulatory bodies currently support as illustrated by a recent case of malpractice brought against a doctor in Ireland.

In this report a qualified doctor had apparently helped set up a clinic to offer salt therapy and had set out to publicise this clinic using statements that made it appear that there were several proven benefits of using this clinic, including benefits to aspergillosis sufferers. The irish Medical Council  judged that he should not have been actively promoting this type of therapy in the way that he did and should not have been raising expectations unnecessarily as the benefits that he claimed for the therapy are unproven, finding him guilty of the lessor charge of poor professional conduct (not malpractice).

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