Already in ancient Greece, the physician Hippocrates recommended inhaling the vapors of salt water to protect and soothe the respiratory tract. In the Middle Ages, monks used to go inside brackish caves where, breaking the stalactites, they could breathe the salt particles released into the air and enjoy its beneficial action on the airways. In short, if the salt in a healthy diet should be used sparingly as it can be harmful, when it comes to natural remedies for the health of the respiratory tract, salt becomes a real protagonist. But let's try to understand better by appealing, as always, to science.
Salt and well-being of the airways, what science says
Salt, once diluted with water and inhaled through fumigations or irrigations, coming into contact with the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract brings considerable benefit, helping to prevent infections of upper airways (Ramalingam et al, Sci Rep, 2019). In fact, it has been observed that the practice of cleaning the nose with saline water has led to a reduction in the incidence of sore throats and colds and a decrease in nasal secretions (Ramalingam et al, Sci Rep, 2019). This effect was found in both adults and children and is due to a decongestant, mucolytic and antiviral action of the salt, also capable of inhibiting the replication of viruses (Ramalingam et al, Sci Rep, 2019). Not only that, using saline irrigations to clean the nose has been shown to increase hydration and mucociliary clearance, which is the defense mechanism that captures and carries out foreign bodies, allergens and pathogens as well as pro-inflammatory substances produced, for example, in case of allergy, which would otherwise accumulate in the nose (Sumaily et al, American Journal of Rhinology and Allergy, 2019 - Abdullah et al, Indian J Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg., 2019). As for the type of salt, the benefits just described were observed with the non-iodized salt and even more with the iodized salt (Sumaily et al, American Journal of Rhinology and Allergy, 2019). Therefore, inhalations, nasal irrigations and gargling with water and salt have been shown to be useful in case of colds, sore throats, rhinitis and sinusitis (Panta et al, Explore, 2021).
Salt for the well-being of the airways, fumigations
The fumigations with salt counteract inflammation of the paranasal sinuses and rhinitis, and are useful in case of phlegm and allergies. Pour two cups of water into a bowl, bring to a boil, remove from heat and add 7-8 grams of sea salt. Cover your head with a towel and inhale the vapors.
Salt for the well-being of the respiratory tract, nasal irrigations
Saline solutions can be used nebulized directly into the nose for nasal irrigations and washes. In this case, the advice is to avoid the DIY and to buy ready-made and safe products, to avoid possible contamination. Remember to blow your nose after a few seconds to clear the airways from mucus, allergens, bacteria, dust and toxins.
Salt for the well-being of the respiratory tract, gargle
Bring a glass of water to a boil, remove from heat and let it cool down. Add a teaspoon of salt and mix. Use to gargle in case of sore throat and mucus in the throat.
Salt for the well-being of the respiratory tract, warnings and side effects
The use of saline solutions is considered safe and well tolerated. However, some local effects such as irritation and a burning sensation may occur. As mentioned in the paragraph dedicated to nasal washes, it is important to use ready-made and sterile saline solutions or, in the case of fumigations and gargles, water that has been boiled previously to avoid possible contamination by bacteria and the spread of infections (Abdullah et al, Indian J Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg., 2019).