Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Salt Room

I have had asthma all my life. It’s genetic. My childhood was filled with weekly allergy injections—first three each time, then two, many of them given by an allergist in New York City who must hold the world’s record for speedy shots. (He also pioneered hypnotherapy for breathing problems; I still remember the treatments.) I also have plenty of memories of being rushed to the doctor for adrenalin injections during attacks. After years of relative calm, just a few years ago I had an attack that was so severe that I thought I might not see the other side of it. Fortunately, I made it into work somehow after a sleepless night of struggling for breath—an experience I wouldn’t wish on anybody—and it turned out that my co-worker, who also unfortunately suffers from asthma, had her prescription inhaler with her. Two inhalations later, I was able to breathe normally once more. The only thing that kept me from weeping with sheer relief was my reluctance to embarrass myself any further in front of of my co-workers.

I got a prescription for the inhaler my co-worker uses the very next day.

That particular attack was triggered by overexposure to the feline protein that causes reactions in allergic humans. During one Shabbat in early spring I stayed with a friend who lived outside Jerusalem at the time. She had several cats and took care of many more feral ones. When I explained to her that I needed fresh air constantly in order to avoid an asthmatic attack, she said: No problem. But when I got there, she complained that it was too chilly outside and kept the windows open to an absolute minimum. (Please bear with me here. This isn’t meant to blame my friend; it will be relevant later.)

Several days ago, my friend Dale sent me the following article by e-mail: Asthma Sufferers Saved by Salt Rooms.

With only seven in Israel, rooms built of salt blocks are proving very effective in treating life-threatening asthma conditions.
The Chaviv family of Mevo Choron struggled for years as they searched for a cure for their children's debilitating asthma. The children were hospitalized innumerable times, and were forced to ingest large amounts of potent drugs.
After repeated failed efforts, the Chavivs finally found a breakthrough - in the form of “salt room” treatments. It was so effective that the Chaviv family decided to build a salt room in their home—currently the seventh in Israel.
Salt room therapy originated in Eastern Europe. The patient sits in a room built of salt blocks which were mined 300 meters below the ground in caves in the Ukraine. This treatment originated when miners reported significant relief and even cure of bronchial diseases while in the mines. The air in the salt room is permeated with negative ions, which clear the phlegm and purify the lungs. The salt also facilitates the secretion of sputum.
During the course of treatment, the patient sits in the salt room for an hour, twice a week, for seven weeks. After that, the room is used according to need for preventive treatment.
According to Mrs. Chaviv, the salt room provided an immediate improvement in her children’s condition. “Our third son was rushed to the salt room in the height of a difficult asthma attack,” she said. “Following the first treatment, the need for inhalations stopped.”
The family has since built a salt room in their own home, despite the high cost. Today, eight months later, all the children are significantly healthier, rarely needing inhalators or steroids. Only six other salt rooms can be found in Israel—in Jerusalem, Haifa, Netanya, Kfar Saba, Petach Tikva, and N'vei Mivtach.

That decided me. I made an appointment, and yesterday I tried out the salt room here in Jerusalem for the first time. Of course, I had to take pictures, which I post here with permission from Dr. Ilan Zamir, the director of the clinic.

Salt room with recliners

Although Jerusalem’s salt room is fairly small, it has room for four reclining chairs. As I was going in, a man was leaving. He was carrying his small child in one arm, and in his other hand he held a bunch of children’s books, including one by Shel Silverstein.

The squares of light are salt lamps. Each one weighs about twenty kilograms, and they add to the salt room’s effects.

Before I went inside the salt room, the receptionist gave me special disposable covers to put over my shoes. I suppose that this is in order to protect the shoes as well, since the floor is covered with salt crystals of all sizes. Here is one:

Salt crystal

I noticed a change after only one hour in the salt room. My lungs felt cooler and more open, in contrast to the constant feeling of heat and constriction that I have learned to live with. (I have even learned to control my inhalation before a sneeze.) I decided then that I am going to take Dr. Zamir’s entire course of homeopathic treatment for people with asthma and allergies. Although it is very expensive and not covered by any health fund as yet, I believe it will be worth it. Over the years I have asked myself how much I would pay to be rid of asthma, and the answer is: much more than the treatment at Dr. Zamir’s clinic costs. Much, much more.

But getting back to the salt room itself: if I needed any proof of its potential, I got it a little while later, when I popped in to visit my friend, the one who lives with Her Ladyship and Missy. All her windows were closed in order to keep in the heat. Usually she opens the windows immediately when I sit down, or whenever I ask her to. This time, we both forgot. I was there for an hour before I realized that the windows weren’t open ... and that I was having no allergic reaction or difficulty breathing at all. Not one sneeze, not one wheeze, no itchy eyes or red, inflamed marks on my skin where the cats had licked me. Nothing.

I began to grin like a Cheshire cat at my friend. She thought I had gone out of my mind until I told her why.

When I told Dr. Zamir that I have a weblog and that I would like to write about my experiences at his clinic, he said: Go right ahead. I explained to him that this would not be advertising; I would simply be blogging about the treatments and my response to them. The treatment lasts for three months, and Dr. Zamir says that he has a very high success rate.

Judging from the number of framed letters of thanks on the wall of the waiting room—some of which I read from beginning to end—and from my own experience after just an hour in his salt room yesterday, I am inclined to believe him.

So I’m betting three months of my life and a good deal of money on what happens next. And I’ll be writing about it here.

For more information on salt rooms, see here (in English) and here (in Hebrew and Russian).

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