Let’s be clear: float therapy cannot cure asthma, and little direct scientific research has been conducted on floating as a way to treat its symptoms. However, studies have shown that floating can help enhance many of the recommended practices for asthma sufferers, including relieving stress and simply getting a good night’s sleep.
Additionally, some individuals with asthma have anecdotally reported that the warm, moist air in the tank simply feels good to breathe in and out during a float. While this may sound insignificant, for people who may have been struggling to breathe easily for much of their lives, it can be quite a meaningful experience.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is an incurable lung disease, affecting more than 25 million people in the United States (including seven million children). Its symptoms include wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath, caused when inflamed, swollen airways prevent air from reaching the lungs. When this happens to a severe extent, it’s known as an asthma attack.
While people with asthma will live with the disease throughout their life, it can be treated in a few ways. Some medications can help prevent or lessen asthma attacks, and people can learn to manage its symptoms and avoid substances or situations that can trigger attacks. This is where flotation therapy comes in.
Stress Relief & Asthma
Perhaps the most clear relationship between floating and asthma is stress relief. It’s well-established that stress can trigger asthma attacks(1), and managing stress is usually part of managing asthma. This is where time in the float tank can be incredibly valuable: floating has been shown to relieve stress, both in the moment and as a long-term benefit. If stress is a known trigger for your asthma, incorporating floating into your regular stress management routine could have significant impact on decreasing the frequency of attacks.
Salt Therapy/Halotherapy & Asthma
One of the reasons some believe that floating can relieve asthma symptoms in this way is because of the immense amount of salt present in the float tank—the water you float in is saturated with hundreds of pounds of Epsom salt, rich in the mineral magnesium.
For many years, asthma sufferers have sought relief in natural salt caves or specially crafted salt therapy rooms, where the walls are coated with salt and salty air is pumped throughout. Also known as halotherapy, the principle behind the practice is that inhaling tiny salt crystals helps relieve respiratory ailments. In European countries, for example, spending a few hours in a salt cave has been a common natural treatment for centuries. Today, many people with respiratory problems purchase salt pipes or special salt lamps that they find provide added relief.
While the few studies(2),(3) that have been conducted on halotherapy are statistically inconclusive, their results do suggest that salt therapy could possibly have a real benefit for people suffering from asthma. Given that the float tank is full of warm, salty water and thus warm, salty air, it stands to reason that floating could also be harnessing the same benefit as halotherapy might provide.
More research is needed, but this could certainly be one explanation for the relief some individuals with asthma find in the float tank.
Sleep Disorders & Asthma
Another way floating may indirectly help individuals suffering from asthma is by improving sleep. Many times, asthma leads to sleep disorders and insomnia, which makes managing symptoms more difficult and quality of life much poorer. One of the established positive effects of floating is that it can lead to better sleep and reduce the incidence of insomnia(4).
Can Children With Asthma Float?
Since asthma usually sets on during childhood, it’s understandable that the people most in need of relief while learning to manage the disease are children. While you should check with your child’s doctor before undertaking any kind of new treatment, floating is absolutely safe for children in general. Here at Sapphire Springs, we have had children as young as six years old enjoy our float tanks and find real benefit from floating, including kids who are learning to cope with ADHD/ADD. Anyone under the age of 18 will need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian for their first float, to complete the required paperwork.
- Stress and inflammation in exacerbations of asthma. Edith Chen, Gregory Miller. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, November 2007.
- The effect of salt chamber treatment on bronchial hyperresponsiveness in asthmatics. J. Hedman, T. Hugg, J. Sandell, T. Haahtela. Allergy, May 2006.
- A review of halotherapy for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Rachael Rashleigh, Sheree MS Smith, Nicola J Roberts. International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, February 2014.
- REST in the treatment of persistent psychophysiological insomnia. Elizabeth Ballard. Clinical and Experimental Restricted Environmental Stimulation, 1993.