NEW YORK - When Svetlana Dushin's mother told her to take her six-year-old daughter who was suffering from coughing spells to a salt room she had no hesitations.
Dushin's mother is a doctor and was familiar with salt room therapy, which has been around for hundreds of years. It is popular in Europe but relatively new in the United States.
"She has been a doctor for 35 years and she saw results in kids," said Dushin, who believes the treatment also helped her daughter Alexandra.
After 14 half-hour sessions Dushin, a 35-year-old New Jersey mother of two, said her borderline asthmatic daughter is no longer coughing and obviously improved.
"She is better. We believe the salt room helped her. We were not looking for an instant cure and it wasn't that. We were looking for something to improve her condition."
Ron Rofe, the founder of Halo/Air Salt Rooms, in New York said salt therapy, or halotherapy, which originated in Eastern Europe, can help people with respiratory and skin ailments.
"The whole microclimate with the right air quality, humidity and salt particles is effective for cleansing the respiratory tract, the skin and the body as a whole," he explained during an interview at his salt rooms in Manhattan.
"Salt is therapeutic. It is a preventative treatment," he added.
Rofe has five specially designed salt rooms at his Manhattan site -- two for couples, two for singles and a family room equipped with toys and children's furniture.
Each room, including the walls, ceiling and floor, is completely covered in salt. The floor of each room is covered with salt resembling fine particles of sand. Rooms are also equipped a flat-screen television.
While visitors relax on lounge chairs and take deep breaths salt imported from the Ukraine is atomized by machines and gently pumped periodically into each room during the session, which lasts an hour for adults and a half-hour for children.
Fourteen sessions are recommended for people with breathing problems such as asthma, bronchitis, hay fever and cystic fibrosis and skin ailments including acne, psoriasis, eczema and even anti-aging, according to Rofe.
"The whole environment is very relaxing," he said, adding that it is a complementary therapy. "Some people feel the difference after one treatment."
Rofe discovered salt therapy after his mother, who suffered from breathing problems, visited a salt room in Europe, He was so convinced of its benefits he opened three centers in Israel and is considering more in the United States.
The American Asthma Foundation, a national advocacy group that funds innovative research, said salt rooms are an alternative area, and one which it hasn't studied.
But Dushin is undeterred.
"I truly believe it is not a spa treatment," she said. "It actually works. It is very popular in Europe. People come from all over the world to these salt caves because they actually help. But you have to understand it is not an instant cure."