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Inside the salt cave, a room with Dead Sea salt-covered floors and walls, patients relax in reclining chairs while calming music plays and a halogenerator grinds pharmaceutical-grade particles into the air.
Inside the salt cave, a room with Dead Sea salt-covered floors and walls, patients relax in reclining chairs while calming music plays and a halogenerator grinds pharmaceutical-grade particles into the air. (Nate Pesce / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

After battling a painful round of sinus headaches, Ellen Flaherty visited a salt spa in Virginia two years ago hoping to find relief.

The spa specialized in salt therapy — a centuries-old European treatment where people sit in a room coated with salt crystals, inhaling air filled with finely ground salt. Advocates say the therapy can alleviate symptoms of everything from sinusitis and allergies to asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease by clearing the lungs and sinuses.
Within an hour of her session in the spa’s salt cave, Flaherty felt better. So did her husband, Joseph Kramer, who has asthma and seasonal allergies.
“We could not believe the difference,” says the Columbia resident. “Afterward, my husband said it was the deepest breath he had taken in a long time. And I didn’t have any pain for one week.”
Their successful treatment led Flaherty to open her own salt therapy business last March in Elkridge. The Salt Sanctuary of Maryland provides therapy sessions daily in its 400-square-foot salt room. Session prices range from $15 to $45.
In the salt room, all four walls are covered in table salt. Dead Sea salt covers the floor.
In the next room, a halogenerator grinds pharmaceutical-grade salt. The generator then pumps finely ground, nearly invisible salt into the air room through a tube.
During 45-minute sessions, participants relax in the room’s zero-gravity chairs and breathe in salty air as they listen to calming music.
“You feel like you’re sitting on a cloud and can just drift away,” says Flaherty, a former health care administrator and educator.
While clinical studies on the therapy in the U.S. are limited, its proponents say breathing in the microscopic salt particles restores optimal levels of moisture and sodium to airway linings, cleansing them. Clients say the proof is in the results.
Penny Folden began salt therapy sessions in Elkridge last spring. The Lutherville resident had battled allergies for years, suffering through runny eyes, a runny nose and a “stuffed-up” head. She tried allergy shots and medications, which provided some relief, but she still experienced symptoms in the spring and fall.
“When I did my first session, I fell asleep,” Folden says. “On the way home, my sinuses started to drain like crazy. And the next day, they felt great. … It really beats getting the shots for 15 years.”
Folden attends salt therapy a few times a week during peak allergy seasons and is now medication-free.
“What else can you do for your health that’s easier than coming in, relaxing and taking a power nap for 45 minutes that’s going to reset your mind and your respiratory system for optimal health?” Flaherty says.
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