Salty cure for asthma

Treatments at a depth of 420 metres help alleviate asthma, neurodermatitis and hay fever, at Soligorsk-based Republican Hospital of Speleotherapy — run by Belaruskali
By Alla Martinkevich

The air is a bio-active cocktail of sodium, potassium and magnesium ions, helping those with respiratory problems.  Known across the CIS, huge numbers are keen to attend, while the facility, of course, has limitations. However, an extra 440 square metre underground ward has been added, raising the number of children treated annually from 400 to around 1400.
Following the President’s working visit to Soligorsk this summer, two instructions were given: to expand the speleo-hospital’s recuperative premises and to ensure their full use. Recently, large numbers of children have begun to arrive.

It takes just a minute to descend and pass through the long tunnels to reach the site. The interior of the salt mine is impressive, with grand arc-shaped domes and salt layers which resemble those of a cake. A group of 25 children arrive and it takes them just 20 minutes to adapt before they can begin dancing, or playing chess, volleyball or table tennis. Those wishing to sleep for a while can take a nap in a comfortable sling-chair in special rooms, while others can take a run in the salt cave. 

Alisa Tarnavskaya, from Gomel, has been suffering from asthma for nine years, with attacks becoming more violent of late. She keeps her inhalator with her at all times, as well as taking strong medication. However, after six sessions in the Soligorsk cave, doctors stress that this young patient has become more light-hearted, having put her asthma attacks behind her. Alisa admits that she was afraid to descend into the cave at first but now smiles, “It’s like a delightful walk. We love to dance and can play tennis here. Sometimes I just sleep.” 

Head Doctor Pavel Levchenko takes us on a tour of the hospital, explaining, “The allergic form of spasmodic asthma is that best treated here, with 99 percent of patients experiencing fewer attacks. In half of our cases, symptoms fully disappear. The salt cave normalises people’s level of histamine (causing inflammation).” Just 12 sessions (of 3 hours each) are enough to treat painful coughs, neurosis and, even, depression.

The special micro-climate is the key, with its constant temperature of around 16 degrees and its gas composition, alongside low air humidity and its saturation with negative ions. Moreover, the site is free from electro-magnetic emissions and the air is much cleaner than that in the usual operating room. There are no dangerous micro-organisms, as they can’t exist in the salt cave; nor is there any dust or other substance which might cause hypersensitivity. Fine airborne particles of salt help the lungs release phlegm, aiding the functioning of the respiratory system while strengthening the nervous system; a spell in the underground salt ‘baths’ is both relaxing and an effective form of recuperation. 

According to specialists, around 37,000 Belarusians would benefit from immediate salt treatment — including 10,000 children. The Soligorsk caves attract patients from Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic States, with demand greatly exceeding capacity until the new ward was constructed. Now, the situation is changing drastically, enabling 250 people to be accommodated at any one time (against 127 in the past).
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