|Image: entrance to the part of the cave reserved for speleotherapy. Teufelshöhle, Germany.|
|Image: Speleotherapy in the Eisensteinstollen in Bad Grund, Harz, Germany.|
Speleotherapy uses the certain conditions of caves and mines to cure several diseases, especially respiratory diseases. The cave air is very low on dust, which could cause allergic reactions or asthmatic attacks. This reduces any kind of irritation, the symptoms of the diseases are reduced or eliminated completely, while the patient is in the cave. But that does not explain how it should have a longer lasting effect.
Supporters of the therapy tell us, the elimination of the irritation gives the body the chance to heal itself. Another important fact is the high amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the cave air. This gas is nontoxic, we exhale it after our body oxidized carbon to produce energy. The atmosphere has a very low ratio of carbon dioxide (0.03%), the ratio in cave air is five to ten times higher, but still very low. But the relatively high amount influences the autonomic nervous system and induces a deeper and more intensive breathing, which helps with the cure of any kind of asthma by training the breathing.
The therapy in the cave works completely without any sort of medical treatment. Especially pregnant women with asthma can use the therapy without any harm to the child. Speleotherapy is a holistic or alternative medicical treatment.
The effectiveness of speleotherapy is not acknowledged in all countries of the world. East European countries use it for many decades now, the therapy is paid by the public health care system. Some countries do not see any medical use in this therapy, because of the lack of serious scientific research, these include the UK and the USA. In such countries the therapy is sometimes advertised as wellness or disease symptom management. In middle European coutries, especially Germany, the speleotherapy had a sort of gold rush in the last decade.
However, the Cochrane report cited below, could not find any significant outcomes in a reliable manner, despite a beneficial short-term effect on lung function. In Germany the therapy is not approved by the health insurance, so controlled clinical trials were initiated to test its effectiveness. A study made during the year 2002 in three German speleotherapy sites prooved the medical use of the therapy.
Other subterranean therapies use radon, salt, or other natural resources. They are definitely related and use the aspects of speleotherapy, but they are not really speleotherapy. However, the respective locations are added to the list below for convenience.
The speleotherapy in Eastern Europe and Russia is often made in salt mines. A healing factor by this salt is assumed, but as far as I know, it is not yet proved. However, salt is used in many subaerial therapies, so why should it be useless underground? This kind of therapy has its own name, it is called Halotherapy.