Balneotherapy and hydrotherapy in chronic respiratory disease

J Thorac Dis. 2020 Aug;12(8):4459-4468. doi: 10.21037/jtd-gard-2019-009.


Chronic respiratory diseases (CRD) belong to major noncommunicable diseases (NCD) targeted by World Health Organization (WHO) NCD Action Plan and United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal (STG) 3.4 to achieve 30% decline of mortality by the year 2030. Strong evidence is now available in the literature for therapeutic aquatic exercise interventions in improving health status of chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD) patients. However, gym-based exercises can be difficult for patients with COPD who are mainly elderly and often have co-morbidities-such as severe arthritis and obesity-which may impair their ability to exercise at an adequate intensity. Besides improving respiratory function and health status in COPD, exercise in water helps overcoming patient's fears and promote socialization, contrasting the risk of depression, which is a major condition often associated with long term COPD condition. Susceptibility to respiratory infections plays a role in exacerbations of COPD. Sulphur-rich water inhalations improve muco-ciliary clearance, reduce inflammatory cytokines production and inflammatory mucosal infiltration, reduce elastase secretion by neutrophils, preserving elastic properties of pulmonary interstitium and thus facilitating expectoration. Repeated cold water stimulations in COPD also reduce frequency of infections. Finally, sauna bathing reduces the risk of pneumonia. On the other side, hydrotherapy/balneotherapy also help obesity control, which is one of the most difficult NCD risk factors to modify and consequently is an important component of the WHO preventive strategy to achieve STG 3.4. Along with high prevalence and mortality, CRD cause increasing pharmaceutical and hospital costs. In this perspective, Health Resort Medicine should not be ignored as a resource in the WHO NCD strategy and Universal Health Coverage, providing a multi-stakeholder platform (including the network of health resorts and their facilities) able to give a real help to the achievement of UN goal STG 3.4 by the year 2030.

Keywords: Balneotherapy; World Health Organization (WHO); chronic respiratory disease (CRD); hydrotherapy; prevention.

Publication types

  • Review