Anywhere Katelyn Tinsley went, an oxygen tank followed. The 22-year-old Winter Park resident suffers from cystic fibrosis and is waiting on a double lung transplant.
After being in the hospital for weeks and on oxygen nonstop, she decided to try salt therapy. She said she has been going to The Salt Room in Orlando for a few weeks and has seen big results. After one session her lungs felt clearer, after a few more she was off the oxygen tank completely.
"It's priceless to give her any sort of relief at all," said her father, Tim Tinsley.
The Salt Room is hoping to help reduce its clients' breathing problems through an ancient remedy.
Relief comes from a room. It's covered with salt — it's on the walls, the ceiling, it softly crunches underfoot. A light clean smell, much like a chlorinated pool, fills the air. Reclining chairs, tranquil music and dim lights are set up, giving the room a spa-like atmosphere. The Salt Room is the fourth of only seven facilities in the U.S. that specialize in halotherapy — the therapeutic use of salt.
Orlando is totally ready for this "new" remedy, said Marines Hoppes, director of The Salt Room.
"More people in the United States are looking for alternatives," she said.
And once Hoppes, an allergy sufferer, had experienced the healing effects of the therapy herself, she knew that the business was a smart idea. "I was sold; we could tell that it worked."
The healing properties of salt for respiratory problems have been believed by Europeans for hundreds of years, and now the natural salt caves used there are being recreated in the United States. Once in the adult salt room — there's also one for children with toys to play with — clients are encouraged to lay back and breathe deeply. Microscopic salt particles are then blown into the air. The salt therapy is said to give relief from everyday issues such as a cold and allergies to more serious conditions like cystic fibrosis.
Though Hoppes and owner Ashley Lewless don't encourage this as the only treatment for their clients, there is some backup to what some might call "new age hype" about halotherapy. A 2006 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that salt inhalation was an effective additional treatment for cystic fibrosis.
Katelyn Tinsley attests to that finding.
"If it didn't work then I wouldn't keep going because I have so many other doctor appointments and other maintenance I have to do to keep myself healthy. I wouldn't add something to the list if it didn't make a clear difference," she said.
Katelyn's doctor is now looking into the effects of the therapy — and has done a session himself.
Lewless and Hoppes have both found that halotherapy works for them. Hoppes' allergies have always bothered her, and medicine never helped. Her daughter also suffers from allergies, but after receiving salt therapy, Hoppes hasn't had to give her allergy medication in three weeks.
Winter Park resident Jill Hartman's 7-year-old son, Jake, has autism and suffers from a lot of upper respiratory issues. She takes him to The Salt Room several times a week. Hartman said it's helped with his congestion and he doesn't cough during the day or night when he gets salt therapy.
"It makes me feel great and it keeps me coming back," she said. "A happy child equals a happy mommy."
Lewless loves the feedback she gets.
"It's so exciting. Just hearing the stories almost makes me tear up," she said.